Groups love to gather on college campuses: They’re minicities jam-packed with energy and education, a veritable fountain of youth where something is always happening and everyone can always learn. But they’re also treasure troves of one-of-a-kind venues, from historic chapels and opulent mansions to ultramodern spaces and high-tech hangouts.
These institutions of higher learning offer planners a range of interesting spaces to spice up their meetings.
University of Kentucky
Mildred “Pansy” Yount chose Lexington, Kentucky, as the place she would start over following the death of her husband, which left her a wealthy widow. Construction of Yount’s Spindletop Hall on the 800-acre Spindletop Farm began in 1935 and took two years to complete.
The University of Kentucky (UK) bought Spindletop Hall in 1959, and today, the Club at UK’s Spindletop Hall is the faculty, staff and alumni club and one of the school’s most popular event venues.
People are attracted to the mansion’s architecture and artisanship, said Melisa Hardin, the club’s wedding and special event coordinator. Now in her fifth season with Spindletop, Hardin still sees something new every time she walks into a room.
The Oak Room is the largest banquet space, for about 130 guests, and is so named for the intricate hand-carved oak paneling. It connects to the library and music room, which can be used for the buffet, the overflow seating or dancing.
Upstairs, three historic, ornate spaces that were originally bedroom suites can now be used for events.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, groups can gather at UK’s newly renovated football stadium. Kroger Field opened two new club areas in 2015: the Woodford Reserve Club and the Field Club. Both clubs feature outdoor seating with sideline views and access to climate-controlled lounges. Both clubs have space for 500 people, but the Woodford Reserve Club is UK Athletics Hospitality’s most popular space and features built-in buffets and a large marble bar.
The Hilary J. Boone Center is the university’s second faculty and alumni center. There, members may book up to eight private rooms, the courtyard and the gated terrace for events with up to 500 guests.
Clemson, South Carolina
While the town of Clemson, South Carolina, is small, the name recognition of Clemson University is anything but, which helps draw events to campus. On campus, the Clyde V. Madren Conference Center features flexible meeting spaces, including a 5,660-square-foot ballroom, and is connected to the 89-room James F. Martin Inn. But it’s the center’s outdoor covered pavilion that allows planners to be creative with events, said Laura Katherine McCallum, sales and marketing manager. The attached lawn is popular for conference luncheons and teambuilding days and overlooks both the 18-hole Walker golf course and Hartwell Lake.
The conference center works with other on-campus venues, like the ubermodern, super-high-tech Watt Family Innovation Center, where glass-encased collaboration rooms jut out over the entrance atrium, which can host 300-person gatherings. The center’s rooftop terrace can also accommodate 300 guests, and the auditorium seats 187.
Five miles from campus, the Clemson University Outdoor Lab is a forested retreat on the banks of Hartwell Lake with eight venues. The lodgelike Kresge Hall can seat 150 for meals and features a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, views of the lake, and an outdoor patio and covered porch. Other buildings can accommodate events for 25 to 40 people, and the outdoor Cannon Chapel/Pavilion can host events for up to 250 guests.
Groups can visit the university’s South Carolina Botanical Garden, where the Heritage Amphitheater seats 400 and smaller events can use a variety of outdoor gardens and indoor spaces.
The WestZone Club at Memorial Stadium, a sprawling space with a wall of windows overlooking the football field, welcomes groups of up to 600.
University of Maryland, College Park
College Park, Maryland
The University of Maryland, College Park is in the midst of a building boom.
“I love all the variety of venues we have on campus and the possibilities they create,” said Tom Flynn, director of conferences and visitor services. “Maryland is a cool place to be, and every year I’ve been here, it’s gotten to be a cooler place with our growth and construction.”
In the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, TERP classrooms —Teach, Engage, Respond and Participate — are state-of-the-art spaces designed to maximize collaboration. In five Tiered Collaborative rooms, which seat 156 to 334, fixed tiered seating is designed so attendees can swivel around to share a table with attendees behind them. In the Media Share room, each peninsula-style table comes with its own computer and wall monitor for groups to work together or share on the large screen at the front of the room.
The Memorial Chapel is a nondenominational space that works well for lectures, ceremonies and concerts. The picturesque steepled chapel features four reservable spaces: The Main Chapel seats 1,000 people, but small groups can also use the conference room, lounge or garden chapel. The surrounding Garden of Reflection and Remembrance also features a labyrinth.
For more traditional spaces, groups gravitate to the Adele H. Stamp Student Union or the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center. At the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, planners have their choice of six theater venues, and the new Hotel at the University of Maryland offers its own 43,000 square feet of conference space.
U.S. Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Many of the buildings on the U.S. Air Force Academy campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado, mimic the sleek lines and slick materials used to build fighter jets and spacecraft.
The most recognizable building on campus and Colorado’s most-visited man-made tourist attraction is Cadet Chapel, a modern structure of aluminum, glass and steel with 17 spires that spike 150 feet into the sky. However, the chapel is closed until 2023 as it undergoes repairs for issues that have plagued it since construction was completed in 1962.
Polaris Hall, built in 2016, is crowned with a 105-foot-tall structure of glass and steel that points directly toward Polaris, the North Star. The Main Forum lecture hall seats up to 164 people beneath the open interior of the soaring tower, which from the outside resembles the vertical stabilizer of an airplane tail. Other spaces include two 100-person seminar rooms, 10 collaboration rooms and additional conference rooms. The Air Force Academy Planetarium can seat 110 for shows, and groups can also watch films and explore exhibits at the Barry Goldwater Visitors Center.
At Doolittle Hall, the 5,500-square-foot assembly area can accommodate 250 for a sit-down dinner and 400 for a standing event, and the atrium area seats 100 for a luncheon or reception.
University of Virginia
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 and designed the original campus, and attendees who visit both UVA and Jefferson’s nearby homestead, Monticello, will notice the striking similarities and aesthetics of both sites.
“The Jeffersonian grounds are just stunning,” said Stephanie Clayton, director of Conferences@UVA
Jefferson designed the Rotunda as the heart of the university’s “Academical Village,” and the white-domed building is available for events. The circular Dome Room can seat 104 for dinners, and the Upper West Oval Room works well as pre-event reception space; the Lower West Oval Room can seat 25 to 50, depending on setup.
The Rotunda anchors one end of the UVA Lawn, which is flanked by 10 Jefferson-designed Colonial mansions that he called pavilions. The Colonnade Club is housed in Pavilion VII and has several rooms for smaller events. The main floor and garden can host receptions for up to 165 or seated meals for as many as 80 guests.
Alumni Hall is another historic building with several spaces for rent, including boardrooms and conference rooms, a courtyard and a ballroom with an adjoining terrace. In the Fralin Museum of Art, the Cornell Entrance Gallery can seat 65 for dinners or host receptions for up to 200 guests.
About 10 miles south of campus, the university-owned Morven Farms has a variety of venues, from small, historic buildings to a sprawling event barn. The 1820 Main House can seat 50 for meals, and the Meeting Barn includes a commercial-grade kitchen, a movie theater, a meeting area with an atrium and an outdoor patio for up to 70-person banquets. Barn No. 3 seats up to 450 for dinner, and attendees can also tour the estate’s formal gardens.