Welcome to New Hall

Residential life and academic excellence come together in Exeter's newest dormitory.

Sarah Pruitt '95
November 1, 2022
New Hall Dorm taken from above.

New Hall, set upon the foundation of the former Fisher Theater and near the science and music centers, anchors a lively community hub on the western side of campus.

Move-in day falls on a sunny Wednesday in early September. All over campus, welcome signs decorate open dormitory doors and chalk-drawn arrows point the way inside. Students lug crates and drag suitcases along the pathways, taking frequent breaks to hug friends and compare summers.

A bit of extra excitement fills the air, along with the smell of fresh paint, as students and their families make their way down Front Street and enter the newly constructed 42,000-square-foot dormitory, currently known as New Hall. Resident faculty members perched on red Adirondack chairs greet new arrivals as they pass through the window-lined entrance and step tentatively into the dorm’s light-filled common room, where proctors have gathered to answer any questions.

In a third-floor room, Kendra Wang ’25 unpacks while her roommate, Jackie Addo ’25, has most of her belongings neatly arranged on her side of the room. The cozy double is made roomier by built-in wooden desks and shelves set against the window and dressers tucked underneath raised beds. Tackboard covers the wall above each bed, awaiting each student’s personalized array of fairy lights, posters, photographs and other decorations.

New Hall is the first dormitory to be built on Exeter’s campus in more than 50 years. If that isn’t significant enough, the sustainably constructed building also houses an academic space with four Harkness classrooms, bringing living and learning at Exeter together under one roof for the first time. With its opening this fall, New Hall has created a vibrant community hub on the western edge of campus, furthering the school’s vision of residential life as an essential part of the Exeter experience.

Priya Nwakanma '23

“There’s something really unique that boarding schools can offer to both day and boarding students,” says Carol Cahalane, the Academy’s dean of residential life since 2018. “It’s the opportunity to have many places and ways to gather with peers who are equally interested in connecting and learning about each other and the world together.”

Cahalane is far from the first school leader to place residential life among the most valuable aspects of an Exeter education. The process of converting the Academy to a residential school goes back to the construction of the first permanent dormitory on campus, Abbot Hall, in 1855 (see sidebar, “Abbot Hall”). In the early 1930s, Edward Harkness’ revolutionary gift funded the addition of Bancroft, Langdell, Merrill and Wheelwright Halls. This brought the school’s total to 13 large dormitories, each housing 35 to 70 students, in addition to eight smaller house dorms, and provided accommodations for instructors with families for the first time.

“The residential element is at the heart of the education we provide,” Principal Richard W. Day reported to the Trustees in 1971, two years after the last two large residence halls to be built, Main Street Dormitory and Ewald Dormitory, opened on the northern edge of campus. “Dormitory life is not separate from but an extension of what takes place in the classroom. The value of each experience is dependent upon the quality of both.”

You want to design a building that... functions for generations.

This symbiotic relationship was on everyone’s mind in 2019-20, when more than 700 community members weighed in on a vision for Exeter’s future and composed a Campus Master Plan. Based on the result of a student housing study, the plan included the renovation of six existing dorms over the next decade, as well as the construction of a new residence hall to house 60 students. This new hall would allow for renovation of existing dorms without either executing that renovation completely in the summers or displacing students during the school year.

“The new dormitory is not about an expansion of student enrollment,” says Heather Taylor, campus planner and architect. “It’s about a long-term strategy to improve student life and housing options on campus.”

Following Wentworth’s renewal, Langdell and Merrill Halls are the next dorms scheduled for renovation, and students from both will be living together in New Hall for the next two years. Langdell and Merrill are expected to reopen in the 2024-25 school year along with an expansive new Wetherell Dining Complex. “We’re very fortunate in that all of these are good buildings with good bones that we will be able to renovate them for the next 100 years,”

Taylor says. “My hope is that the same is true for the new dorm. You want to design a building that is timeless and functions for generations of our students.”

Historic Dow Barn houses two of New Hall's five faculty apartments.

In accordance with the principle of environmental stewardship, a key aspect of the Campus Master Plan, the primary structure of New Hall is wood frame rather than steel, which minimizes its carbon footprint. Inside, the building maximizes natural light in both the residential and academic spaces, and geothermal heating and cooling systems provide dehumidification to the student rooms and air conditioning and heating to the faculty apartments and academic spaces. Faculty apartments on each level include separate studies opening directly to student hallways, ensuring a strong faculty-student connection as well as privacy for instructors and their families.

The building also incorporates the historic Dow Barn, which dates to the mid-19th century. Previously used only for storage, the barn was adjacent to neighboring Dow House, a former clinic that the Academy purchased in 1967 to adapt into a student and faculty residence. Dow Barn’s original exposed wood beams now adorn the cathedral ceiling in a second-floor faculty apartment. The façade on the barn end of New Hall incorporates the double doors and diamond-shaped windows of the original barn, as well as the vented cupola and weather vane. The same angular windows, repeated along the rest of the building, echo the barn’s classic look and feel, creating a seamless blend of historic and modern.

“I’m proud of the many sustainable features of the new building,” says Mark Leighton, director of Facilities Management. “Especially the reuse of Dow Barn, enhanced building envelope, geothermal systems, low-maintenance materials, and efficient sizing and layouts of the student and faculty spaces.” In addition to its main residential space — bedrooms for 60 students, five faculty apartments, an airy front common room and ground-floor game room with kitchen and laundry — the building’s academic wing is home to the Health and Human Development Department, with four Harkness classrooms, a department room and a flexible common area.

New Hall was built on the former site of Fisher Theater, which was the hub of the Academy’s performing arts offerings from 1971 until the opening of The David E. and Stacey L. Goel Center for Theater and Dance in 2018. The sloping topography of the building site allows the new dormitory to easily incorporate academic and residential space, while keeping them securely separate.

The academic entrance, on the north side of the building, opens onto a courtyard adjacent to the Forrestal- Bowld Music Center and is a short walk from both the Lamont Health and Wellness Center and the Phelps Science Center. On the Front Street side, a broad campus green in front of the student entrance to New Hall links the building to two smaller dorms, Dow House and Front Street Dormitory. “I love how the topography allows for two distinct entrances, both of which have strong connections to campus,” Leighton says.

While the union of Merrill and Langdell in New Hall was born of necessity, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity. For the first time, former residents of two different dorms, their affiliated day students, and a small group of new students have come together to create a unified dorm

identity and forge the enduring bonds so many Exonians take away from their time on campus. “I do think each dorm has a very unique culture, and I’m fascinated to see how they mix,” says Troy Samuels, the head of New Hall and an instructor in history. “I’m excited to get to play around in terms of building community.”

The main floor conference area.

While Samuels and other dorm faculty members take the lead in this process, they will rely on the support of senior proctors for the vital task of building dorm unity. Other large dorms on campus typically have six to eight student proctors, but New Hall has 10, five from each former dorm. “At the beginning of the year, we’re going to be doing double duty,” says Bronwyn Hall ’23, a senior proctor who spent her first three years at Exeter living in Merrill. “Two people on duty every night, one from each dorm, so that we make sure everyone gets a chance to get to know people that they don’t know, and even the proctors get to know the other dorm’s proctors.”

Hall and her fellow proctors also played a key role in helping their dormmates prepare for the transition during last spring term. Merrill and Langdell residents went through the process of room draw together and also gathered on a few more informal occasions, like toasting s’mores on Wetherell-Ford Quad. “I think they’re going to be a little cautious at first,” Samuels says, adding that the new dorm “has just so many wonderful spaces and wonderful opportunities for them. It’s going to be great.”

Students Jackie Addo '26 and Kendra Wang '25 are one of several cross-dorm pairings in New Hall.

After meeting for the first time during an off-campus dinner outing at a local Thai restaurant, Addo and Wang became closer friends when they both ran winter track. As preps, Addo lived in Langdell and Wang lived in Merrill, but they decided in the spring to room together this year, becoming one of several cross-dorm pairings in New Hall.

A week after move-in day, their double looked well lived-in. They have both ordered shelves to attach to their beds for phone chargers and alarm clocks, and tacked up photographs, prints and collages over their beds. A shared built-in desk, which runs the length of the wall beneath the windows, is loaded with textbooks, laptops, Clorox wipes and other dorm room staples.

“I really like the view, especially when I’m studying,” Addo says. “When times get stressful, it’s really nice to look out at the trees.” The desk is so roomy that she has placed a second chair at the end, ideal for study sessions with a friend. Wang, a self-proclaimed “super clothes shopper,” loves the big closets.

Addo and Wang acknowledged having mixed feelings over the summer about the move to New Hall, and they worried about missing the close-knit culture of their former dorms. Now, however, they are optimistic. “There was a lot of emphasis in the first dorm meeting of everyone really trying to make the effort to see us as one big dorm,” Wang says. “I think that’s actually going really well.”

Addo agreed, saying: “There are a lot of people from Merrill that I wanted to talk to — people in leadership roles or people that play on the volleyball team — but never really got to know. I’m still working on that since it’s only been a week. But I feel really close with the Merrill people, and I’m really excited to see what we can do as one dorm.”


Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the fall 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

Nora Stahl '25 decorating her room's built-in desk.

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