Keenan Colton Kelsey ’66 commits support for Gray

blue print of Sweet Briar bell tower
blue print of Sweet Briar bell tower
One of the blueprints of Sweet Briar’s bell tower, the pavilion extending from Gray Hall, which was designed by Ralph Adams Cram.

Posted on November 14, 2023 by Clélie Steckel

In October, Reverend Keenan Colton Kelsey ’66 initiated a transformative gift to Sweet Briar College. This gift of $5 million, part of the Where Women Lead campaign, will support the rehabilitation of Gray Hall.

Gray was one of the first residence halls designed for Sweet Briar by architect Ralph Adams Cram and was constructed in 1906, along with Carson Hall. Around 2000, Gray was transformed from a residence hall to an administrative and academic building, with the addition of classrooms and by modifying dorm rooms to become offices for faculty and staff.

As enrollment at Sweet Briar has increased since the 2015-2016 academic year, so have demands for student housing. The Covid-19 pandemic has also made a lasting impact on student housing, with students requesting more single rooms than in previous years.

Gray will be returned to its original purpose as a residence hall, which will include removing modern institutional finishes to reveal hardwood floors and plaster ceilings. The College is considering restoring missing fireplace mantels following their original designs and other woodwork, such as baseboards and picture rails, removed as part of late-20th-century improvements. The project may also restore original residence hall room configurations, replace demolished partitions, re-open blocked doors, and will improve bathroom, kitchen, and laundry facilities. The College will also modernize Gray’s HVAC system.

“I am a fierce believer in same sex education, particularly women’s education,” said Keenan. “We need the information, the confidence, the critical thinking, and the moral compass to make maximum contributions to the world. Sweet Briar gives women options to have choices in life.”

Interim President Mary Pope M. Hutson ’83 said, “All of us at Sweet Briar are so grateful for Keenan’s gift to support Gray, which accomplishes one of our Where Women Lead campaign goals. This demonstration of commitment will inspire many others to support this important effort and the consequential improvements to our college. My heart swells with gratitude for Keenan and her generosity.”


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When will rehabilitation work for Gray begin?

A: The starting date is still to be determined. The College is holding meetings early in 2024 with the Office of Student Life and Buildings and Grounds as well as Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker, our architectural consultants, to decide on which architectural plan to adopt for student housing and common spaces. The College is also planning for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) upgrades to meet the structural needs for Gray.

Q: How long will the rehabilitation work take to complete?

A: The final timeline for rehabilitation work has not yet been finalized. Once the work commences, the project will take approximately three years to complete.

Q: Which architectural firm has Sweet Briar contracted with to do the rehabilitation work?

A: Sweet Briar contracted with the firm Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker (MCWB) out of Williamsburg, VA and Albany, NY to conduct a scoping study for Gray. We will soon be soliciting requests for proposal for the construction. MCWB will stay involved with Sweet Briar during the construction phase to act as advisors on the project.

Q: Will Gray be restored to its original residence hall layout with two rooms connected by a common area?

A: As the College works to finalize the architectural designs, these processes are being conducted with an eye to modern functionality combined with stewardship of a building that appears on the National Register of Historic Places. MCWB is providing guidance on what architectural features must be preserved in order to maintain Gray’s eligibility for historic tax credits.

Q: How will rehabilitation work affect traffic in the Quad?

A: We anticipate that there will be some minor disruption to traffic during the rehabilitation work. Sweet Briar will work with the construction firm chosen to do the work to ensure that any such disruption is minimal and to make sure the safety of our campus community is assured.

Q: Will Sweet Briar consider selling historic tax credits to help fund the rehabilitation of Gray?


A: Sweet Briar is researching this possibility, including the feasibility of doing so as well as the potential impacts to Sweet Briar’s long-term financial planning.