Whittaker Place Apartments
Newport News, Va.

Owner: Whittaker Development II LLC
Construction Manager: Mark Turner Construction
Lead Design Firm: Walter Parks Architects
Civil Engineer: Timmons Group
MEP Engineer: Hickman-Ambrose Inc.
Structural Engineer: Speight Marshall Francis
Historic Consultant: Sadler & Whitehead Architects PLC

One of the few hospitals designed and built by African-American physicians and architects, the 46,000-sq-ft building provided quality medical care to the city’s Black community for more than 40 years until its closure in 1985. The Whittaker Memorial Hospital sat empty for nearly the same amount of time. But now it is once again serving the community, thanks to a $10-million renovation that transformed the historic icon into a distinctive apartment building.

The project team’s main focus was to maintain affordability without compromising quality—and preserving the building’s historic integrity and importance to the neighborhood.

Rather than gutting the structure, the team collaborated to identify cost-effective ways to optimize the construction budget by reusing and repurposing existing spaces wherever possible.

Access to original documents from additions constructed in 1957 and 1966 proved valuable in identifying the original use for each space. The documents also alerted the team to potential issues in concealed areas.

The structure had survived decades of neglect in relatively good shape, but removal of exterior concrete coping had deteriorated many non-bearing walls, drywall and ceilings. Mold was widespread, too, and asbestos-containing materials required abatement before full renovation could get underway.

Detailed surveys helped the team identify the most economical repair or replacement option for each damaged element. For the most part, the interior corridors and exterior walls and doors were preserved with only minor repairs.

The final design preserves the hospital’s primary circulation patterns as well as unusual features, such as the nursery’s corridor windows. Operating rooms converted into residential units retain their original tile walls and floors. Elsewhere, concrete floors were left exposed and treated with a cleaning polish/sealer that proved more cost-effective than traditional polishing methods.

Although the project is intended to provide much needed affordable housing for the community, the completed units boast furnishings and finishes comparable with those of market-rate apartments.

Features include granite countertops, washer and dryer, energy-efficient mechanical and plumbing systems and fixtures, LED lighting and electronic entry locks. Other amenities include a courtyard area with grills and a dog park.

Complementary strengths of project team members contributed to complete the project on time and within budget, with regular project walk-throughs fostering ideas and discussions that yielded cost-saving innovations.

One ENR judge was particularly impressed with the design team’s approach to capture stormwater efficiently with a concrete pipe system that incorporates submerged pumps to drain the stormwater. “The roofing systems and drainage [were] able to pipe the storm drains to the curbs to accommodate the sheet flows,” the judge said. Community members played a role in the project’s successful completion as well. People shared stories with project team leaders about their own personal connections to the old hospital. Several residents were also hired to assist with grass cutting, security and general labor.

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