Spring 2021 Issue

Center of It All

Expansion will add 53,000 square feet to the Sadler Center for student life


By Dave Johnson
Photos By Alfred Herczeg and Jim Agnew

As the expression goes, pardon our mess during renovation.

William & Mary’s Sadler Center West expansion project started in late November and was well underway when students returned to campus the final week of January. When work is completed — the target date is summer of 2022 — 53,000 square feet will be added to make Sadler the central hub of campus activity.

“Our goal is to create a hub of student life right in the heart of campus — to meet our students where they spend so much of their out-of-class time,” Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06, P ’24 says. “If you think about the construction of the Cohen Career Center next to the Sadler Center, and in 2018 the opening of the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center also in that same part of campus, we have been steadily creating that vibrant center for W&M student life.

“With this beautiful addition to the Sadler Center, students will easily find services they need. They will encounter one another in both planned and unplanned ways, and they will enjoy engaging spaces for meetings, social events, speakers, performances and other community gatherings.”

Presently, student organizations are scattered across campus. Student Leadership Development, Residence Life, the Dean of Students office, the Center for Student Diversity and the Flat Hat are among those at Campus Center on Jamestown Road.

Community Engagement is in Blow Hall, and Student Transition Engagement Programs (formerly First Year Experience) has an office at the Lambert House on Jamestown.

“They will be able to socialize and have formal and informal gatherings in a place that feels like home in the heart of campus,” Ambler says. “The Sadler Center will have new, inviting spaces. We want to create a place that helps students find and engage in activities that enrich their W&M experience.”

Plans call for a three-story addition on the west side of the Sadler Center in addition to renovations to the Student Health Center. Projected to cost $38 million, the project was approved by the Board of Visitors as part of W&M’s 2015 Master Plan.

Director of Student Unions & Engagement Eric Margiotta says the goal is “to add as much life as we can” with the project.

“We’re pushing hard to make things both unique and relatable to the campus,” he says. “There are some student unions in the country where you know where you are, there is an immediate sense of place, of the campus. In others, you would have no idea what campus you’re on.

“In a student building setting, we can be a little bolder. It’s not going to be super reserved and dull. We’re looking for vibrancy and life and ways to represent the university so you’ll know where you are.”

Drew Stelljes Ph.D. ’07, assistant vice president of student affairs, says the facility will have vibrant color patterns and an open design.

“The art will be selected so that we see people, groups and cultures in new and different ways, drawing our attention to values of belonging and inclusion,” he says. “The expanded student union will inspire creativity and discovery, leadership and service, critical thinking and open-mindedness. It will be a place for our student organizations to practice courageous leadership.”

In the meantime, there will be construction work, noise and an occasional mess. There is fencing around the project area.

PROVIDING SUPPORT: Naming opportunities will be available for the spaces and programs within the Sadler Center. Contact Anna Norville at anorville@wm.edu for more information.

“The construction site, mostly situated between Sadler and the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center, will be very active for the next year and a half,” Project Manager Amber Hall says. “Temporary measures have been put in place so Sadler Center can continue functioning at full speed for the duration of construction.”

Ambler says every effort is being made to keep disruption to a minimum.

“The team managing the project has a thorough plan for phasing the work so it will be least disruptive to people using the Sadler Center and adjacent facilities,” she says. “We will, for example, continue to have an active dining hall there.

“Interestingly, because of the pandemic, the Sadler Center isn’t as busy as it would have been in a normal academic year. We are not hosting the typical array of evening events and programs, though we are using those larger spaces in Sadler as classrooms during the day. The winter break was an important time for making progress on the project because the campus was even less busy then.”

The Sadler Center was last renovated in 2012-2013. The $8-million project included a 7,000-square-foot expansion of the dining facility.

The building first opened in January 1993 as W&M’s central student activities building, called the “University Center,” containing a new dining hall, a 450-seat auditorium, two ballrooms and numerous meeting rooms. It took the place of three lodges, an outdoor basketball court and an extension of the stadium track.

Comedian Adam Sandler and musical group De La Soul were some of the first performers there. Since then, the building has hosted countless artists, lectures, awards ceremonies, concerts and more.

In 2008, W&M renamed the University Center after W. Sam Sadler ’64, M.Ed. ’71, in honor of his retirement after 41 years of service. Sadler was dean of men from 1970 to 1973, dean of students from 1971 to 1992, and vice president for student affairs from 1993 to 2008.

“There are few buildings on this campus that are frequented more often by students or more recognizable than the University Center,” Michael K. Powell ’82, D.P.S. ’02, currently the W&M Foundation chair, said during the renaming ceremony at Commencement 2008. “And there are few individuals who give as much [as] Sam Sadler. Now, when students enter this building, they will forever be reminded of a man who devoted his life to his alma mater and to this student body. It is with great pleasure that we rename this facility the Sadler Center.”

Now, with the expansion creating additional space for student services and organizations, the Sadler Center more completely encompasses Sam Sadler’s dedication to serving the needs of students.