University of Alabama offers first look at new $145 million Tutwiler Hall

Mark Hughes Cobb
The Tuscaloosa News

Until July 4, 2022, the old Tutwiler Hall overshadowed the new. Then at 7 a.m. Independence Day, with flaring pyrotechnic dazzle racing across the top, all 14 floors of that old modernist building came thundering down, in a show that could be seen for blocks around the University of Alabama campus, and heard for miles.

As planned, the implosion collapsed inward to a ragged but contained pile, peaking at maybe three stories high. A little over two weeks later, that's shrunk, as debris from the old Tutwiler gets picked through, sorted by metal, concrete, or other refuse, piled and trucked off for recycling.

July 20, 2022; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; The University of Alabama showed off the new Julia Tutwiler Hall to members of the news media Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

The brand-new $144,900,659 Julia Tutwiler Hall, all 383,015-gross square feet, now casts the dominant shadow, within its five-story square featuring windows looking out onto Sorority Row, Bryant Drive, Evergreen Cemetery, 12th Street, the Tutwiler Parking Deck, and the south end zone of a slightly more massive place called Bryant-Denny Stadium.

SEE THE TUTWILER TIMELINE: A timeline of Julia Tutwiler Hall on the University of Alabama campus

'Good thing those old walls can’t talk:' Former Tutwiler Hall residents recall University of Alabama days

"We know from old Tutwiler how much the history and the traditions meant; we saw that on the demolition day," said Alicia Browne, UA's director of housing administration, referring in part to the thousands that gathered on streets and nearby rooftops and parking lots to say goodbye to the old Tutwiler, and in part to the months leading up, when former residents purchased bricks and room numbers as memorabilia.

July 20, 2022; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; The University of Alabama showed off the new Julia Tutwiler Hall to members of the news media Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

"So I think for these (new Tutwiler) students, they're going to be creating all sorts of new traditions here, that they will probably share with siblings, friends; who knows, maybe even daughters one day."

On a tour for media Wednesday morning, faint odors of fresh paint and drying mortar hung in the air, as workmen swept and tidied, and completed some finishings. Plastic still covered some chairs and cushions, arrayed throughout numerous open spaces. A curving staircase and modern minimalist chandelier greet visitors, behind the resident assistant's desk, at the main entrance, which faces Bryant Drive.

All six elevators' burnished steel rails have been padded, for now, against the inevitable rush and bustle of move-in day, Aug. 3. That's earlier than for some students, as sororities prepare for rush. According to the UA Panhellenic Association, primary recruitment runs Aug. 6-14. Fall classes begin Aug. 17.

A look inside new Tutwiler Hall

Meeting and study rooms planted along stretches of hallway, and in wider corners, seem almost as numerous as the residence rooms, double occupancy with private bathrooms in each. Late in the morning, the green courtyard, wound with paths, showed broad swaths of sunlight beside patches of shade. Like the rest of the building, the courtyard's lockable, with white wrought-iron gates at exterior entrances, for the residents' safety and privacy.

"We're going to be a home to 1,247 incoming freshmen women, 35 RAs (resident assistants) and three community directors here to work with our students," said Browne,  who helped lead the Wednesday tour, for a total of 1,285 residents.

"It's a great new building with double rooms, each with their own bathrooms, and fabulous community spaces throughout the building. ... But to really just want to sit and picnic, or read a book or study, the courtyard's green space, I think is going to really make this area." Like the rest of the building, the center court will have full Wi-Fi access.

Every floor has laundry facilities, community kitchens, social nooks with tables and chairs, and lounge areas with TVs. One of the most wide-open common spaces is a two-story corner lounge, its windows looking out onto Bryant-Denny.

There's a fitness room, a craft room, and a 16,600 square-foot ground-floor room that can be used for events, but doubles as a storm shelter with capacity for more than Tutwiler's roughly 1,300 residents, up to 1,413 students faculty and staff. Though it remains sunny and open under normal circumstances, during a storm, metallic shutters can roll down from ceilings to cover windows and doors.

"In order to maintain the architectural integrity and still provide protection, there's overhead shutters that can drop down," Trent Hall, senior project manager for construction administration at UA. "And they're all controlled by one switch, so staff can come in and secure the space."

July 20, 2022; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; The University of Alabama showed off the new Julia Tutwiler Hall to members of the news media Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

Students won't have keys, but their activity cards, represented by an app on smartphones, will allow access to rooms, and various parts of the building.

To the right of the main entrance there are offices for the housing department. A staff member will sit at that reception desk to greet visitors, available to show families and prospective students models of what a Tutwiler room looks like, along with an example of the presidential suites, available elsewhere, on the north of campus.

"People want to see the buildings, and the rooms of course," Browne said, "but when we have people living here, we want to respect their privacy. So part of what we've always wanted was to have a couple of show rooms that people could see" without bothering the dorm residents.

The next-door Tutwiler Parking Deck was completed last year, with 1,450 spaces across seven above-ground levels. The first Tutwiler dorm was built in 1914, over land roughly where the Rose Administration building stands, close to the Quad. Tutwiler No. 2, the one that just came down, was constructed at 901 Paul W. Bryant Drive, on what was then 10th Street. The new Tutwiler sits on the northeast corner of 10th Avenue and 12th Street.

All-female community

Most dorms on campus are now co-ed, but Tutwiler will remain women only, in the tradition of the previous two Tutwilers, named for the educational and prison reformer dubbed the "mother of co-education in Alabama," having founded a women's college in Livingston that evolved into the University of West Alabama, and helped 10 of those Livingston grads to become the first women to enroll at UA in 1892.

"I certainly find that some students want (the women-only choice)," Browne said. "While there's a lot of interest in co-ed living, I think that that tradition and that sense of community, especially for a lot of young ladies who are going to take part in sorority life, that ability to be in an all-female community is great."

Not all freshmen women will be moving in to Tutwiler. This fall's freshman class may near 8,000, Browne said, and assuming that's half women, roughly 2,700 will be housed elsewhere. When students apply for housing early in the year, by Feb. 1 for an upcoming fall semester, they get more say in where they're living. 

"When students apply a little bit later in the process, they put building preferences on their application, and then our staff assign them to a mixture," said Browne, who started with UA housing in 2005, then worked awhile in the Honors College, before returning to housing in 2016. Over those years, she's seen a near-revolution in campus upgrades, additions to the quality of dorm living.

"I think expectations of students have changed, their attitudes. They expect more programming, and engagement, and the most visible sign of that is new buildings," she said.

To learn more about the Tutwiler project, see www.buildingbama.ua.edu/projects/new-tutwiler-residence-hall/#capitalprojectinformation.