Hill College House opened 58 years ago and was built without insulated walls, air conditioning or adequate elevators.
It remained this way until May 2016, when the closed to begin an $80 million renovation. The upgraded building will reopen in August to house almost 500 members of the incoming Class of 2021.
“Every single inch of the building is being touched in some fashion,” Design and Construction Project Manager Dave Dunn said, meaning new flooring, furniture, window coverings and air conditioning. He added that Hill will have new wiring, new bathrooms and restored windows.
Executive Director of Design and Construction Management Michael Dausch said that air conditioning was finally being added to the building — a “big step for a large all-brick building” known for its high interior temperatures at the beginning and end of the academic year, he said.
Director of Residential Services John Eckman said Hill’s “less-defined common spaces” now have more purpose.
For instance, the former library now has six study rooms furnished with newer technology. There are more music practice rooms, and the building’s large lounge is now a “club room” with a pool table, a pingpong table, a flat-screen TV and a fitness area. The building now contains a larger number of kitchens and and its popular art studio, which was formerly located in the basement, has been moved to a main floor with better lighting.
Another update to the college house is its dining hall. Director of Business Services and Hospitality Services Pam Lampitt said that not only will there be new types of seating and a new layout, there will also be a new variety of food stations in the dining hall. Dunn added that the food preparation area is now 50 percent larger to fulfill the expected demand.
Lampitt said Hill’s menu is based on the “diversity of the palettes on campus” and looks to accommodate what current dining halls are lacking.
For instance, she said it will have a self-contained “very veggie” area for vegans and vegetarians. Having noticed in the past that some of these students are reluctant to eat dining hall french fries which share a fryer with meat products, Lampitt believes that they will feel “safe” in their new dining hall.
The bathrooms on each floor are gender-neutral, but will have private showers and private toilet rooms with sinks and mirrors and full-sized doors.
Dausch said he believes that the building will receive at least a LEED silver energy rating, maybe even gold due, in part, to the building’s new energy-saving HVAC system and wall insulation. Lampitt also mentioned food digesters in the dining hall which will reduce the amount of water in food waste.
Director of Design and Construction Mariette Buchman added that Hill’s reopening, combined with the recent unveiling of New College House, will create a new student housing presence at the 34th Street end of campus. This idea was part of the most recent campus master plan to create a more vibrant community in that area.
Despite the many renovations, Eckman said Hill will retain its basic interior layout, which Buchman said is built to foster community between residents. Hill’s architect, Eero Saarinen — who also designed the St. Louis landmark Gateway Arch — created it with that intention.
The residential floors are divided into quadrants, Eckman said. Each quadrant is defined by a specific color and contains a lounge, bathrooms and a deliberate configuration of bedrooms.
Saarinen chose a specific number of rooms per quadrant so students could get to know each other more easily. He also intentionally designed small rooms so that the students would want to spend more time in common areas.
Eckman has noticed that Hill alumni feel a stronger connection to their building than those who lived in other dorms. Even now they identify as members of “four blue” — the blue quadrant of the fourth floor — or “three yellow.”
The biggest challenge of the Hill renovation project has been the short time frame, Dunn said. Employees have been working 10-hour days and Saturdays until this week.
Fortunately, construction has been so smooth thus far, Dunn added. In fact, there are some unused contingency funds that have allowed the University to make extra improvements, such as fixing the mortar on the brick border fence, Buchman said.