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Home > Hodel Center Nearing October 10th Dedication

Hodel Center Nearing October 10th Dedication

September 30th, 2009

By David Halbrook

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

PHC's new Barbara Hodel Center, a gift of God and the product of gracious donations and three intense years of construction

Earl Hall stood in the Grand Lobby of the new Barbara Hodel Center, staring up as two workmen wrestled scaffolding high above the stone-tiled floor. He glanced at his watch, stealing costly moments off the clock to appraise the final push to finish key sections of the building prior to its October 10 dedication ceremony.

“What you’re seeing here is a very extensive redesign from what was originally planned,” said PHC’s Vice President of Operations. “The original design was modern and utilitarian. Now it is a very elegant colonial architecture. We’ve really been scrambling to complete what needs to be done prior to the dedication.”

Hall’s tactful bit of understatement scarcely conveys the stress that he and a cast of contractors have shouldered through three years of crunching deadlines, delays, and redesigns that saw the center’s cost jump substantially, yet achieving what today stands as a stunning visual metamorphosis of PHC’s signature campus life showcase. Nearly three years after a 2006 groundbreaking, Hall’s crews strained to get the 106,000 square-foot building’s essentials –- gym, fitness center, locker rooms, classrooms, office spaces, bookstore -- ready for fall 2009 classes. And while incoming freshmen arriving August 18th politely sidestepped odd strips of construction tape and ladders, they were uniformly delighted to find the building’s core infrastructure complete, shimmering with fresh paint, polished ceramic and new carpet.

On October 10th, at 1 p.m., the College will dedicate its beautiful new Barbara Hodel Center, a 106,000 square-foot crown jewel of campus life. Dr. James Dobson will be the featured speaker. Barbara Hodel has been a source of tremendous wisdom and experience as a long-term Patrick Henry College Board of Trustee Member. She and her husband, Don, past Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Interior in President Reagan's administration, extend their sincere thanks to all who have contributed to the completion of this extraordinary building. For more information, or to RSVP for this event, click here.

Glimpsing their first look at the building named for long-time PHC friend and trustee, Barbara Hodel, some new arrivals marveled at the building’s imposing size while taking casual tours of its pristine interior. During an orientation dinner for incoming freshmen and their families, the Center’s newly-laminated gymnasium was filled almost to capacity. Returning students arrived the following week to find sleek new rehearsal studios on the main level, and modern classrooms waiting on the second floor.

The brand-new gym of the Barbara Hodel Center

Three weeks later, the men’s basketball team enjoyed its first practice on a PHC court not confined to a fenced barricade behind Lake Bob. Senior center Jensen Near struggled to find words: “It’s hard to describe. For the first time since I’ve been here… I feel we can, with some consistency, actually work at our skills and aspire to possibly be a competitive basketball team. To me, this court is beyond beautiful.”

The sentiment echoed across campus, as students anticipated completion of an elegant student café off the Grand Lobby, modeled after a Parisian bistro, and a spacious, booth-lined, wood-floored dining hall. Staff and faculty quickly settled into handsome offices and meetings rooms on the second floor, and IT (information technology), mail room, and grounds personnel moved computers, servers, and maintenance equipment into new quarters on the lower level.

The building’s elegant look and motif can be traced in large part to visionary leadership from PHC President Dr. Graham Walker, who set out to address aesthetic shortcomings in the original blueprints, deficiencies he sensed “in ways I couldn’t quite put into words at first.” Even describing the original prints as “impressive and exciting,” Dr. Walker nonetheless recalled feeling “uneasy that the building was somehow falling short of the Board of Trustees' vision for the College.”

That vision embodied a restrained visual grandeur the original plans failed to capture.

Today a stately, early American theme now pervades the Hodel Center, from its soaring, arched ceilings and ornate exterior brickwork to its fluted pilasters and Palladian windows. These more fully embroidered, classical brush strokes were late to the drawing table, channeled through the eleventh-hour sketches of classical architect Daniel Lee. An architect of international repute whose work flows from “ancient principles of design,” Lee was commissioned by Dr. Walker and the Board of Trustees in late 2007 to incorporate features linking the building’s physical structure with classical elements calculated to evoke God’s transcendence and, ultimately, the ideal of truth.

“We’re trying at Patrick Henry College to recreate the original American collegiate ideal,” Dr. Walker explained. “We are a college of classical Christian learning trying to revive a tradition that has, at specific times and places in history, mirrored the beauty of God’s creation and His eternal Truth through architecture; it is an ethic that seeks through classical design to point the heart and mind toward the heavens.

Dr. Graham Walker (left) tours new dining facilities with David Halbrook, Director of Communications

“And while it cost more to achieve that effect,” he added, “the Board of Trustees considered it a worthwhile investment.” The resulting visual and physical impact leaves an impression of permanence, he hopes, “that Patrick Henry College is here to stay,” and which also exemplifies “in its very mortar and brick the College’s ties to America’s founding principles and our spiritual mission for Christ.”

Inspecting the center in late September, Dr. Walker paused at a distance to point out several discreet features meant to do just that: among them exterior brick patterns and classical inlays common to colonial Williamsburg and the walls of the Wren Building, the country’s oldest college building at the College of William and Mary. Tracing a finger laterally, he noted a “distinct band of light-colored bricks” beneath the second-floor windows, “forming a sort a graceful belt around the building.”

Next were decorative corner quoins, or Greco-Roman brick latticework conceived by the ancients to evoke strength), and the “ionic, nautilus-shaped” cambers crowning the massive, main portico columns, each reflecting “God’s design and historic patterns of creation.” Together with the enormous palladian windows (named for Venetian architect Andrea Palladio), ivory pilasters (flattened columns) dating back to ancient Rome, and the intricate cornice “dental work” inlays along the roof, the Hodel Center lays claim to a classical lineage dating back centuries, from ancient Israel’s tabernacle to Greco-Roman basilicas to colonial American courthouses. In pragmatic terms, the combined effect of these features “subtly breaks up the mass of the exterior facade and lends warmth and humanity to the entire structure.”

Stepping through the center’s arched, thickly-glassed entryway into the transparent inner vestibule, Dr. Walker cited both the portico’s utility and artistry: “The glassed-in vestibule creates an air-locked, thermostatically controlled atrium” engineered to lighten heating bills, while visually, he observed, “the doors simply disappear, drawing the eye directly into the sweeping drama of the Grand Lobby.”

Once inside the Grand Lobby, the eye is indeed drawn upward past toasted crème-colored walls toward a gracefully arcing ceiling and massive skylight shaft, painted white and bisected by beams in the shape of a cross.

“It reflects the vision of wholeness that we aspire to, while bathing the room in natural light,” he said, smiling. “Entering this space, one cannot help but feel the cheering presence of the sky.”

The Grand Lobby of the Barbara Hodel Center receives finishing touches as the Dedication Ceremony approaches

On either side of the lobby stand a row of white columns set below deep-set, white-paned colonial-style windows. Under a slightly jutting cornice, inscriptions etched on the facing walls blend verses from Jeremiah 9 and 1 Corinthians 1: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; Let not the mighty glory in his might; But let him who glories glory in the Lord.

“In the entire building,” Dr. Walker confided, “these Bible verses are what mean the most to me. The soaring nature of this lobby speaks to the nature of God. It’s designed to lift one’s thoughts heavenward until the eye rests on the Scripture, with its merging of two verses that tell the world where our priorities lie.”

Gesturing toward a row of doors at the lobby’s south end, he grinned, adding: “And I love the fact that, right behind this moving Grand Lobby is a beautiful, light-filled gymnasium where I anticipate watching many home basketball games.”

At this, he paused to reflect aloud his feelings about the journey forward and what it means to be standing in the Grand Lobby of a building he watched rise from a few mounds of dirt in a wintry field.

“The sum of what we’re trying to achieve at Patrick Henry College,” he said, quietly, “about our mission, about the strength and persistence of the institution, and about the nature of the God we serve, comes together in this building. It makes a bold statement about who we are and what we believe in. In so many ways, it positions the College favorably for years to come.”

While the Barbara Hodel Center was built without debt, through the generosity of a major donor family, a number of spaces in the Center have yet to be completed. Naming opportunities for those facilities are available to interested donors and supporters. To learn more, contact the PHC Office of Development at 540-441-8701.