“A campus with well-maintained buildings sends the message of pride, of financial stability, and of overarching quality.” – President Jo Allen, ’80
As one of the original buildings constructed after the College’s move to Hillsborough Street, Johnson Hall holds a special place in the hearts of those who love Meredith.
In a recently completed project, Johnson Hall has been thoroughly renovated. Goals of the project were to repair damage that had occurred over time to a building constructed in 1925, to improve function and accessibility, and to make Johnson Hall even more beautiful – as befitting such an important place in Meredith’s history and future.
The renovations included creating a welcome center, restoring the historic elements of the building, creating a new sweeping staircase in the Rotunda, and adding a new copper dome.
The gleam of the new dome, which can be seen from the College’s front gate, is one of the most visible aspects of a project that conveys Meredith’s strength.
“A campus with well-maintained buildings sends the message of pride, of financial stability, and of overarching quality,” President Jo Allen said. “This renovation, in short, allowed us to accomplish an astounding number of goals – all appropriately significant for the most iconic building on Meredith’s campus.”
In this feature, Allen shares her insights on the project, helping readers explore the improvements made to one of the College’s most beloved spaces.
While the 2015-16 renovation was extensive, it was not the first time Johnson Hall had undergone major changes, such as the removal of the original exterior stairs and the addition of an interior staircase in the Rotunda.
President Allen is pleased with the project’s attention to historic details.
“We worked with an historical architect who could not only help us see possibilities for design, but who also could help preserve or reintroduce some elements of the original building while understanding Johnson Hall’s contemporary functions,” Allen said.
A $3.5 million gift from the Jud Ammons family, in memory of Jo Ellen Williams Ammons, ’57, made many of the renovations possible. This gift is one of the largest in Meredith’s history.
Thanks to this gift, admissions, financial assistance, the registrar, and the accounting office were all brought together on the first floor to create the Jo Ellen Ammons Welcome Center. The renovation created a more user-friendly experience for prospective and current students and their families.
The center is named in memory of Ammons family matriarch Jo Ellen Ammons, who earned a degree in religion from Meredith in 1957, served four terms on the Board of Trustees, and was the recipient of the Meredith College Alumnae Philanthropy Award in 1997. Her family felt the Welcome Center and renovation of Johnson Hall was a fitting tribute.
“Jo Ellen’s greatest interest was students,” said Jud Ammons, Jo Ellen’s husband of 57 years. “She was compassionate, hard-working, and always smiling. She loved Meredith and was always interested in helping people.”
The Ammons Welcome Center’s location is important because it serves as the “front door” of Meredith College.
“It makes guests feel welcome and makes navigating Johnson Hall and the admissions process logical,” Allen said. “It helps meet the expectations of our prospective students, who visit several colleges and make assessments of the quality of the institution based on factors such as campus appearance and the ease of finding information.”
Allen appreciates the connection between the Center’s purpose and the person for whom it is named.
“Jo Ellen was an incredibly warm and welcoming person, who was chosen as ‘friendliest’ by her classmates in 1957, ” Allen said. “That her family honored her with such a powerful and authentic statement of memorial, one that so beautifully captures the welcoming woman she was, would no doubt please her beyond measure.”
The new fountain in front of Johnson Hall is one of Allen’s favorite elements of the project, and is one of the ways the renovation reflects the building’s history. Parts of the original exterior staircase, which had been stored on campus for decades, were incorporated into the fountain. From a certain angle, it looks as if the stairs are still part of the building’s front façade.
“I especially like the new fountain. Its openness and its creatively distinctive look make a symbolic statement about the College – that Meredith as a community is also open and distinctive,” Allen said.
In October, a ceremony was held during which the fountain was turned on for the first time and campus community members tossed pennies into it, making wishes for the College.
The new fountain has already proven to be a popular place for impromptu photo shoots during campus visits and during Meredith traditions like Ring Week and Cornhuskin’.
Bobbitt Clay Williams, ’57, and Bill Williams made a $1 million gift to commemorate their 60th wedding anniversary. The funds were used to support renovations to Johnson Hall, and in honor of this gift a suite of offices on the second floor was named for Mrs. Williams.
Bobbitt Williams said the gift was meaningful to her because she loved her days at Meredith and believes Meredith has directly contributed to the wonderful life she has led.
“Meredith College is grateful to the Williams family for their gift, which is a touching tribute to the life they’ve built together and evidence of the lasting impact of the Meredith experience,” said Allen.
The Williams Executive Suite brought the offices of Meredith’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) together to facilitate greater communication and collaboration. The suite is located in the former admissions office. This is one example of the efficiency improvements allowed by the renovation.
“We wanted to reorganize offices for greater efficiency, beginning by creating a one-stop shop for enrollment services that would be student-friendly, logical, and fully accessible,” Allen said. “We also wanted to cluster organizational entities, such as ELT and institutional advancement, so that staff collaboration would be better supported.”
Removing the central staircase and replacing it with a new structure made the Rotunda more functional – providing a space for receptions, recitals, and other events that the previous stairs sometimes blocked.
The new position of the staircase means those gathered are no longer forced to cluster to one side of the stairs or the other, and it also opens up the view. Now, from the front of Johnson Hall, visitors can see through the Rotunda onto a new back patio and out to the courtyard.
As part of the renovation, each door is now fully accessible, and the elevator has been overhauled to improve its function.
“What I love most about Johnson Hall is the way the light plays in the Rotunda throughout the day,” Allen said. “From early mornings to late afternoons, the glow of the lighting changes subtly. I think that movement is a nice symbol of evolution and change. The passage of time amidst this kind of historical legacy is a reminder to use our time wisely to preserve and enhance Meredith.”