A multi-year project to ensure William & Mary’s historic Wren Building and President’s House are preserved for the next 100 years will begin phase one in the coming weeks.
The project, which will allow the state and university to address a number of preservation concerns in both historic buildings, comes as the state prepares for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026 when millions are expected to participate in events and programs across the country, including W&M and Williamsburg.
The 1732 President’s House – the oldest residence for a university president in the nation – is used extensively for events and to conduct university business. The Wren Building, constructed between 1695 and 1700 before Williamsburg was founded, is the oldest academic building in the nation still in use today. It is the oldest of the restored public buildings in Williamsburg.
“As we consider the significance of these university landmarks, especially as we prepare for the nation’s quarter-millennium, it’s important we address them comprehensively to preserve these national treasures for the next 100 years,” Interim Associate Vice President for Business Affairs Sean Hughes said.
An assessment conducted last year by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation identified issues vital to the structural integrity of both historic buildings. A committee that includes faculty, staff, student and alumni leadership as well as Board of Visitors members was established earlier this year with a charge from Rector Charles E. Poston to review the preservation, safety and sustainability of the Historic Campus – specifically the Wren Building and President’s House. Similar renovations of the Brafferton, which turned 300 years old this year, were completed in 2013.
To be completed in phases, the project will include new roofs for the two historic structures – both roofs were replaced nearly 95 years ago. The project will also address a number of other preservation concerns in both buildings, including water infiltration and continual HVAC and mechanical failures.
Both buildings have undergone renovation and repair work over the years but long-term heavy use has taken a significant toll that requires a comprehensive solution, said Matthew Webster, executive director of architectural preservation and research at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Webster’s team led the initial assessment of the historic structures.
“Acute preservation issues put at risk the fabric of both buildings,” said Webster.
In addition to the Wren and President’s House project, a comprehensive plan to renovate and modernize William & Mary’s residence halls is already underway in spaces adjacent to the Historic Campus. As part of phase one of the Housing & Dining Comprehensive Plan, construction began in June to preserve and completely renovate Monroe Hall. Similar renovations to Old Dominion Hall will begin in 2024.
Last year, William & Mary submitted a state budget request for the $14.2 million total cost of the projects involving the Wren Building and the President’s House, though the outcome of this request is indeterminate pending passage of a revised state budget. Hughes said that total could rise some with escalating construction costs.
Given the urgency of the preservation aspects of the project, and the tight timeline to complete renovations in advance of 2026, W&M is moving forward with the first phase of planning, including finalizing the structural assessment of the President’s House. The university will provide alternative housing for President Katherine A. Rowe once the preservation project is underway. The house will still be used for some traditional campus events during construction.
To limit disruptions in the academic spaces and to already scheduled university events, work at the Wren Building will begin after the 2023-24 academic year. Renovation and preservation work at the Wren will include detailed planning for any necessary moves of classes, offices, visitor rooms and historic collections. While a timeline has not been established yet, the university will work closely with contractors to determine impact to regular activities such as tours, weddings and other events, Hughes said.
“We understand the importance of these buildings to the university community and providing ample advance notice about any disruption or impact is a priority,” Hughes said. “It is our hope and plan for the Wren Building to be open during renovations for major events such as Convocation, Homecoming, Yule Log and Commencement.”
Staff, University News & Media