Virginia’s biggest undergraduate university reached a milestone Tuesday in its effort to establish a tech-focused graduate campus in northern Virginia. Virginia Tech officials raised a steel beam to the 11th floor of a 300,000-square-foot (30,000-square-meter) building in Alexandria that will anchor the school’s new Innovation Campus.
The campus is part of a major redevelopment of the northern Virginia corridor around Reagan National Airport that will feature Amazon’s new headquarters complex on the northern end and Tech’s new graduate campus on the south.
Plans for the campus were announced back in 2018 to coincide with Amazon’s selection of Northern Virginia for its second headquarters, dubbed HQ2. Indeed, Amazon cited the Innovation Campus as a major reason it chose to locate in northern Virginia.
At ceremonies commemorating the topping out of construction Tuesday, Innovation Campus Executive Director Lance Collins called it a “symbolic midpoint of the project.”
The university expects the building to open in time for the fall semester of 2024. Eventually, three buildings totaling 600,000 square feet (55,000 square meters) are expected to be completed by 2030 at a cost of more than $1 billion. The campus will serve more than 750 graduate students, mostly in computer science and engineering programs.
The gem-shaped building is designed to maximize light exposure for solar cells that will supplement the building’s energy needs. Its base is built with the university’s signature Hokie Stone – the material that dominates the landscape at Tech’s flagship campus in Blacksburg in southwest Virginia.
University architect Liza Morris said the stone at the Innovation Campus is deployed in “a more tailored aesthetic that will be complementary to this urban environment.”
Virginia Tech sees the campus as a way to bolster its footprint in northern Virginia and connect directly to the high-tech companies that increasingly are making the area their home. Speakers at the event emphasized the need for high-tech workers and said Tech will be able to churn out qualified graduates to help meet the demand.
“It’s really a transformation of this area into something quite extraordinary for the country,” Collins said.
Boeing, which recently moved its corporate headquarters to northern Virginia, is the campus’ largest supporter and will sponsor a Boeing Center for Veteran Transition and Military Families on site.
Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands said Tech’s “presence here in Virginia in this growing global technology hub and our proximity to the nation’s capital are really essential as we pursue our aspirations to become a top 100 global research university.”
Tech administrators said they believe the campus will also help diversify a profession that has long been dominated by white men. Collins said that about 300 students are currently enrolled in the program at a temporary location in nearby Falls Church and that 29% of students are women and 17% are underrepresented minorities, which he said is higher than average. He expects those numbers to grow as the campus matures.
“If you get more voices, more diversity at the table, you operate at a higher level,” he said.
At the other end of the corridor, Amazon has said that it has hired more than 5,000 of the 25,000 people it expects to bring to northern Virginia this decade, and it plans to open the first phase of its development, Metropolitan Park, this summer.