Restoring Johnson Hall to Its Full Glory

For homeowners, few chores are more burdensome – or necessary – than the constant need to update, replace, and secure every feature of our houses. As I enter my fifth year as president, I can tell you the same is true with college facilities.

We have carefully investigated every corner of this campus, setting priorities for repairs, replacements, renovations, and refurbishments. Some updates have required immediate attention; others have had to wait because they were not a priority or, quite honestly, because we didn’t have the funds to do the work.

One of the more pressing – but expensive – renovations on the list is Johnson Hall, our most iconic building that not only welcomes visitors, special guests, and alumnae to the College, but also sends a message about the quality and state of Meredith College.

Thanks to two generous donors, we have the funds to do some major reworking of Johnson Hall.  Interestingly, the gifts, while unconnected, are both expressions of love and honor for wives (both Meredith graduates and both from the class of 1957).

First, in honor of their 60th wedding anniversary, Bill and Bobbitt Clay Williams have donated $1 million to name the Executive Suite on the second floor, which will house the vice presidents and their staffs.  This relocation and renovation will allow for quieter and more collaborative workspace between the Executive Leadership Team.

Second, through the generosity of the Jud Ammons family, we now have $3.5 million to create the new Jo Ellen Ammons Welcome Center – named for Jo Ellen, Class of 1957 and former trustee, who passed away in 2014.  Located on the renovated first floor, the Center will house Admissions, Financial Assistance, the Registrar, and the Business Office and offer a seating area and outside patio.

As a result, prospective students will no longer wonder where they are supposed to go but will, instead, be greeted and escorted to a welcome parlor. And our current students will have a clear sense of where to go for financial assistance and transcripts, rather than pinballing up and down stairs and all around Johnson Hall looking for the right offices.

In short, the renovation will create a more user-friendly experience for our prospective and current students and their families.

Our work with an historical architect has been invaluable as we build the Executive Suite and the Jo Ellen Ammons Welcome Center, restore the historical elements of the building, and take advantage of all this building offers. 

First, we will replace Johnson Hall’s roof and add a copper dome. Second, we will replaster the interior dome and replace rotted doors and windows.

Then, we will open the view from the front entrance through the Rotunda into the courtyard, which requires – yes – repositioning the staircase.

[Gasp!] But we love our staircase and its drama!  

Actually, we are excited to replace the staircase with even more drama: a grand, sweeping spiral staircase from the second floor to the east side of the first floor that will give us significantly more space for events. 

That we can make these enhancements through the kindness of our generous donors is particularly crucial as we balance facilities and finances … and as we welcome future generations of students to Meredith College.

Watch our website for updates on the construction – meredith.edu/renovations – and prepare to join us for the grand reopening in the spring of 2016.

Originally published in Meredith Magazine, Fall 2015

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