An Uncommon Gift
Brock Commons was officially unveiled April 24 – ironically, the third anniversary of the fire that gutted much of the former heart of the campus – in the day-long Brock Commons Dedication and Campaign Finale Celebration. The pedestrian mall, which has been credited with transforming the campus, is the result of a $3 million gift from Macon F. Brock Jr. and his wife, Joan Perry Brock, of Virginia Beach. Mrs. Brock is a Longwood alumna ‘64 and Mr. Brock is the chairman of the board of Dollar Tree Stores Inc., which he helped found and of which he had been CEO until January 1. Festivities in the April ceremony included a ribbon cutting for the project, a picnic lunch for the campus community, live entertainment featuring student performances, ceremonies honoring donors for whom rooms and the Rowe Gallery on campus have been named, a cocktail reception at the Brock Commons pavilion, and a Campaign Finale dinner.
In addition to being an extraordinary outdoor gathering place, Brock Commons eliminated the unsightly and unsafe Pine Street corridor. Brock Commons occupies what used to be Pine Street – which has been dug up, greened over and closed to traffic – from High to Franklin streets. The plaza area of Brock Commons, which features charcoal gray steps and strips of a red concrete that resembles bricks, rises above the former intersection of Pine and Redford streets.
Inside the pavilion, which borders the Main Street side of the plaza, are four polished granite panels that bear the names of major donors to Longwood's campaign, a turning point: The Campaign for Longwood. The Brocks' gift – the university's largest for a capital project and the largest from a living donor – was part of the campaign, which ended June 30, 2003 after raising $33 million. The rear of the pavilion is directly above what is now the main vehicular entrance to campus, into the parking garage on Redford Street from Main Street. Four concrete columns with "Longwood 1839 University" inscribed on a lintel atop them stand between the entrance and exit on Redford Street.
The opposite side of the plaza, facing Griffin Boulevard, is bounded by a colonnade with the inscription "Brock Commons," honoring the donors. The back of the colonnade overhangs that entrance to the garage, between Lankford and the library. The colonnade is reminiscent of the older Colonnades between Ruffner and French.
One of the fountains, between the pavilion and the colonnade, is fed by 24 jets that spray water six feet into the air; the water drains into the center of the plaza. The other fountain, a short distance away between the dining hall and Lankford, is called the Chi fountain, after the organization dedicated to fostering the Longwood spirit. In honor of the organization's 100th anniversary in 2000, alumni representatives of Chi contributed more than $50,000 for the fountain. An inscription on the slate ledge next to the fountain reads "Chi, founded in 1900, is an ideal always sought but never obtained/It is the spirit found in the hearts and minds of those who seek its real purpose/Loyalty-Character-Respect-Challenge-Responsibility."
The Chi fountain is more of a waterfall than the other fountain. It has a trough that fills with water and overflows, then splashes down onto the lower surface across pieces of granite and re-circulates back to the waterfall. The sound is just like a waterfall and lights illuminate it at night.
The parking garage, for faculty and staff, is where the intersection of Pine and Redford streets had been, directly underneath the plaza. Redford Street provides access to the garage from both directions; motorists can enter or exit from Main Street. Approved by the State and supported by parking fees, the garage is lighted 24 hours a day and has fire safety features, emergency phones and two ventilation fans six feet in diameter. Its concrete structural roof supports Brock Commons, and pumps supply the jets for one of the fountains.
The parking garage made it possible for Brock Commons to be level and flat. The garage portion was built in a low area, at the bottom of a hill, making it possible for the upper portion to line it up with the entrances to three major buildings: the dining hall, the library and the gymnasium (Lancer Hall).
The plaza is accessible from the garage by an elevator. The Redford Street level and plaza level also are linked by stairs between the entrance to the garage from Main Street and the dining hall, as well as, on the other side, by a grand staircase between that garage entrance and the library.
Nearly all of the work on Brock Commons, which began in December 2002, was complete by early March. The construction cost $6.5 million, the overall project $7.5 million. It was designed by Ayers Saint Gross Architects & Planners of Baltimore, and the contractor was Branch & Associates Inc. of Roanoke. Due to severe weather in the winter of 2002-03 and higher than normal rainfall in the spring of 2003, the project experienced some unforeseen delays.
The grassy area in front of the library on the Pine Street side formerly had sloped down toward both Pine and Redford streets in several terraced sections. Now that lawn is level with Brock Commons, and the four-sided sorority clock (honoring the four national sororities founded at Longwood between 1897-1901) has been put back near its old location in that area, next to the top of the grand staircase. The steps in front of Lancer Hall have been eliminated, as have some of the steps in front of Wygal, Lankford and the dining hall. Both sides of Redford Street have been repaved, and brick pavers, landscaped median strips and new lighting have been added. Madison Street has been closed to through traffic.
As part of Brock Commons, the block from Redford Street to Franklin Street was greened, and the northernmost part of Pine Street, just off High Street, was greened when nearby Grainger was rebuilt in 2002-03. The same is being done this summer to the block between Madison and Chambers streets (between Hiner on one side of Pine Street and the Cunninghams on the other). In one of the project's first steps, telephone poles along Pine Street were removed and wiring was placed underground. Preliminary work also included moving a steam tunnel and some water and storm sewer lines.
"By this summer it will be green all the way from High Street to Franklin Street," said Bobbie Burton vice president for university advancement. "We've put in a lot of trees, plants and grass. There's so much more green space than there was when we started."
To accommodate for parking spaces lost due to Brock Commons, a 230-space parking lot was built last summer next to the Wynne Building. "With that parking lot and the parking garage, we have maintained the number of campus parking spaces," Burton says. "Parking is generally being moved to the perimeter of the campus. The philosophy behind Brock Commons is to make this more of a pedestrian campus and less of a vehicular campus."