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Hunton Student Center grand reopening honors VCU’s history

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The design of the historical timeline panels correspond to stained glass windows, harkening to the Hunton Student Center's origin as a church. An etched image of the Egyptian building runs across the panels.
The design of the historical timeline panels correspond to stained glass windows, harkening to the Hunton Student Center's origin as a church. An etched image of the Egyptian building runs across the panels.
A crowd of about 200, representing both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses of VCU, celebrated the grand reopening of the historic Hunton Student Center.
A crowd of about 200, representing both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses of VCU, celebrated the grand reopening of the historic Hunton Student Center.

Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated its past and future with the grand reopening of the Hunton Student Center on Jan. 24. A dedication ceremony and reception marked the completion of a $6 million renovation project to turn the 166-year-old former Baptist church into a first-rate gathering place on the MCV Campus for the university community.

The refurbished, three-story center serves as the first Student Commons for the MCV Campus, and includes food service plus space for recreation, lounging, studying, small group meetings and offices for student government and Student Affairs staff. The renovations for this modern student facility were accomplished while still preserving the historical features of the building, such as original church pews, staircases and ceiling medallions.

The new student center is a marvelous mingling of the proud history of the Medical College of Virginia and the modern innovations of VCU as a top research institution.  This is well represented by a permanent exhibition of six large panels denoting the rich heritage of the MCV Campus that line the outside wall of the VCU Libraries Learning Center, which is equipped with the latest information technology.

“The Hunton Student Center is a special place for VCU – a unique and historical building. The renovations have brought new life to this facility while preserving our greatness as an institution,” said VCU President Eugene P. Trani, who recounted the origins of the building to the several hundred students, faculty and staff gathered for the event.

Built in 1841, the building originally was the First Baptist Church of Richmond. In 1928 the church moved to then-suburbs of the city – the corner of Monument Avenue and Boulevard, where it stands today.

Dr. Trani recognized members of the current First Baptist Church attending the reopening, including Oscar Pitts, who was baptized at the original church.

The Medical College of Virginia acquired the building, located at 12th and Broad streets, in 1938, and it became the institution’s first student union. It was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1968 and added to the National Register in 1969.

VCU named the building Hunton Hall in 1989 in honor of two men who served MCV and VCU with distinction for many years, Eppa Hunton Jr. and his son, Eppa Hunton IV.  Both men served on the MCV Board, and Eppa Hunton IV, also served as VCU’s second rector of the Board of Visitors. Eppa Hunton V, on hand for the ceremonies, represented his father and grandfather.

The most recent renovations began in 2005, led by the support of the MCV Foundation and the MCV Alumni Association, which contributed $750,000 and $250,000, respectively, to the project.

Dr. George W. Burke III, president of the MCV Alumni Association of VCU, said the project was serendipitous with the association’s renewed commitment to be more actively involved in improving student life.

He also said the permanent history exhibit that is part of the new center is meaningful to all alumni – past and future graduates of the health sciences schools of VCU – because it illuminates a long and proud tradition that is to be continued.

“This is the story of individuals who rose to great heights,” Burke told the crowd.  “They all started like you and me, with a hope and desire to do well.”

With the dedication of the new building, Hunton Hall begins a new life as the Hunton Student Center.  Students now have the opportunity to enjoy one of the most modern facilities of its kind, in one of the most historic places of its kind, reminded of their purpose by a large inscription on the north wall of the center. It was taken from a mission statement in the West Hospital lobby more than 50 years ago:

To preserve and restore health
To seek the cause and cure of diseases
To educate those who would save humanity