New Building To House VMI Post Police Offices

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The entrance to Virginia Military Institute along Letcher Avenue is undergoing a dramatic change in appearance as part of post infrastructure enhancements.

Most prominent among the changes is the razing and replacement of an 1870s-era structure that served most recently as the headquarters of the VMI post police. This building, with its prominent portico and four large columns facing Letcher Avenue, was demolished in June.

Known as the bachelor officers quarters, for a purpose it served previously, the building was among a row of late 19th century houses on the east side of Letcher Avenue that today contain VMI offices.

Construction on a new $5.5 million post police building is to begin shortly and be completed by next summer. The new structure is to be styled in the manner of the Gothic Revival architecture that dominates the VMI post. Also planned are enhancements to the existing columns at the entrance to VMI – wings on each side and metallic letters affixed to the entrance gate.

Col. Keith Gibson, executive director of the VMI museum system, said he and other VMI officials met with representatives of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to discuss and get approval for the planned architectural changes to post, a national historic district. He said the Historic Lexington Foundation was briefed on the proposed changes.

“The old building could not be retrofitted to meet the contemporary needs of the post police – what a modern law enforcement facility must have,” explained Gibson. “The post police have very specialized needs that cannot be adequately addressed in the existing structure.” Also, he said, water drainage problems were undermining the northeast corner of the old building’s foundation.

“Three years ago VMI began the planning process for post infrastructure enhancements,” said Gibson. “Providing an upgrade to the post police headquarters became part of this process.”

When it became apparent that a new building would be necessary, he said, “We wanted to model it on the scale and nature of the nearby buildings. We didn’t want it to overwhelm or to dwarf the existing buildings.” The new structure, which is to be slightly smaller than the one it is replacing, “is to align with the fronts of the other buildings, which is to say it will be set off from Letcher Avenue, with room for green space in front. … The overall effect is to be a more comfortable sight with green yard on the south and west sides.”

The old building, originally the home of a W&L professor, was purchased in the 1920s by a fraternity that enlarged it and added the portico and columns to make it fit in better with W&L’s Classical Revival architecture. VMI acquired the building in 1960 for use as housing for faculty and staff members. The post police moved into the building around 2000.

Gibson noted that the row of residential-type structures between the VMI post and W&L campus is sometimes referred to as the “hyphen” between the two distinctly different types of architecture of the two colleges, a term coined by the late W&L architectural historian Dr. Pamela Simpson.

The News-Gazette

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