Repairs Finished, Villa Le Balze Opens to GU Fanfare

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Georgetown’s Villa Le Balze reopened after roofing repairs last semester.

Georgetown’s Villa Le Balze in Florence, Italy, has been reopened for student use after roof repairs closed the building last semester.

The Villa is fully occupied this semester, according to Abigail Davids (COL ’12), who is currently studying there, and there is no sign of current construction or concern about the building. The Villa is a particularly integral part of the program because students eat, live and take classes in the building, Davids said. Other students agreed.

“I think the Villa is extremely important for the study abroad experience: The Villa and its surrounding gardens can only be described as magical, the view of Florence from every window is like nothing I have ever seen in my life, and though I can’t say with authority since I wasn’t at the program in the fall, I would imagine living in hotels gives much less of a sense of home,” said Tiare Dunlap (COL ’12), who is also living at the Villa during the Spring 2011 semester.

Last July, students set for the Villa experience this fall received an email from Deputy Director of International Programs and Director of Global Strategies Lisa Donatelli and Assistant Director of Villa Le Balze Programs Karen Wardzala alerting them that roofing problems, most likely caused by the Villa’s age, would have to be fixed during the Fall 2010 semester. Students would not be able to occupy the Villa, though they would still be able to study abroad in Florence.

“We are fortunate not to have had to cancel any of our programming due to the renovations; a very special thanks goes out to the extraordinary group of students last semester who stayed and studied in nearby hotels,” Wardzala said in an email yesterday.

While the replacement of damaged roof beams was the main focus of renovations, the Villa’s directors took advantage of the fact that the building was unoccupied during the fall semester to complete additional renovation and management projects. These included the addition of a second emergency exit on the basement level and the conversion of a large bathroom into two smaller ones, Wardzala said.

The renovations forced students in Florence in the fall to relocate. Students lived in the Hotel Villa Aurora for about the first month of the program and in the Hotel Villa Fiesole for the remainder of their stay, never visiting the Villa at all, according to Catherine Walsh (COL ’12), who studied in Florence during the Fall 2010 semester.

The change was not without problems: Walsh was injured by a roof collapse at the Hotel Villa Aurora two nights before the move between the two hotels. In the early hours of the morning, while she was sleeping, a small section of the roof fell onto the side of her head, Walsh said. She suffered a minor concussion and was immediately admitted to the emergency room. During her weeklong period of bed rest at the new hotel, the Georgetown faculty on site was very helpful and kind, Walsh said. Executive Director of the Office of International Programs Katherine Bellows came to Florence the following week to check on Walsh’s condition, and officials were also in contact with Walsh’s parents.

Despite the temporary close of the Villa and her own injury, Walsh said that her experience overseas was a very positive one. The unique aspects of their time in Florence brought the program participants closer together, she said.

“I ended up having the best three-and-a-half months of my life, no question,” Walsh said.

According to Wardzala, the majority of the students currently in the program are living in the Villa, while a few students chose to live with Italian host families.

“We continue to have a long-term property maintenance plan in place to ensure that many future generations of Hoyas can enjoy the Villa’s exquisite offerings,” Wardzala said.

The 2012-2013 academic year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Villa’s construction.

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