Judge Damon Keith’s eyes lit up Wednesday as he got a tour of his namesake — the first residence hall to be built on West Virginia State University’s campus since 1969.
“Oh, it’s gorgeous,” Keith said. “My, my, my. Can’t beat this.”
The Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall features suite-style dorm rooms with a sleek and modern design. There’s a gaming room, a study lounge, a grab-and-go cafe and a conference center for university events.
The new building has the capability to provide beds for nearly 300 students, and is now the only other residence hall on campus besides Dawson Hall, which is home to about 80 students and was last renovated in the 1990s.
University officials hope the new dorm will provide a more involved on-campus college experience for students at WVSU, where most students commute.
While classes don’t start until Monday, it seems to already be paying off. The hall is at 95 percent capacity, according to WVSU spokeswoman Kimberly Osborne.
“One thing we found was that a lot of students who were commuting are now able to live on campus,” Osborne said. “This was supposed to increase residential student population, and it’s done that already and we haven’t started the year yet.”
The Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall replaced Prillerman and Gore halls, which were demolished earlier this year to make way for the $30 million project. The new building now has Gore and Prillerman wings to honor the history of those original dorms, which were built in the ’20s and ’30s.
The building was funded thanks to the approval of bonds by the Kanawha County Commission.
Keith is an alumnus of WVSU and has assumed senior status with the U.S. Court of Appeals. He’s known nationally as a civil rights leader, heading landmark decisions, including what’s now commonly referred to as the “Keith Decision,” which prohibited President Richard M. Nixon and the federal government from engaging in warrantless wiretapping.
Keith broke into tears Wednesday at a dedication ceremony for the new building as he described what his time as a student at WVSU in the 1940s meant to him. It was his father’s dying wish to see him graduate from college as the first in his family. It was the first time he had a black teacher. As Keith puts it, when he enrolled at WVSU, the cataracts were removed from his eyes.
“I appreciate everything that this college has done for me, and I couldn’t have made it in life without the foundation and the courage and the understanding that I received here at this great university,” Keith said. “We here are walking on floors that we did not scrub and we’re going through doors that we did not open, but our job — indeed our challenge and our commitment — is to continue to scrub the floors so others can walk on them and open doors so that graduates of our great university can follow through.”
Several officials including Kanawha County commissioners Kent Carper and Hoppy Shores, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill all attended Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting event on WVSU’s campus, where Ambling University Development Group LLC, who oversaw the project, surprised WVSU President Brian Hemphill with $25,000 in scholarship funds.
“We’ve arrived,” said Carper, also an alumnus. “There has been more activity in the past two years at this university than in the last 50.”
Carper credits Hemphill with the university’s recent progress — which includes a significant boost in enrollment.
Hemphill assured Wednesday’s crowd that there is more to come, saying the Judge Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall has helped the university “evolve into a truly modern environment for current and future students to grow, learn and flourish.”
“Brick by brick, this facility represents such promise for the State family and will serve as an enduring tribute to the university acknowledging its historic role,” Hemphill said.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.