Drexel University’s Kelly Hall Renovations Bring Students Together

The residence hall opened for students after two years of renovations and expansion, and now features many more spaces for students to study and connect.
LLounge in Kelly Hall
The Commons at Kelly Hall provides a bright space for students to connect. Photo courtesy of Drexel Business Services. 

After two years of construction, renovation and expansion, Drexel University's Kelly Hall has welcomed first-year students into its rooms once again. Among its updates, Kelly Hall now provides a much-needed gathering space for students throughout the University's residential community.

The residence hall closed in 2020 and reopened this fall after an 86,000 square foot renovation and expansion. Now, a new generation of Dragons are enjoying a new version of Kelly Hall, which includes a residential student common area and renovated bi-level community lounges. The renovation was performed in collaboration with Drexel Business Services,Real Estate and Facilities, Student Life and American Campus Communities, which also partnered with Drexel for the 2019 Bentley Hall renovation.

“It was a collaborative process to build out and reimagine the design for Kelly Hall,” said Don Liberati, associate vice president of Business Services. “When we first started envisioning the renovation, there were upgrades to things like mechanical systems that had to be considered, but we also really wanted to step back and think about this from the standpoint of, ‘How do we create a campus amenity with this building?’”

The stands out as a big campus amenity. There is now a patio outside the building where students can sit to share meals, study and soak up the sun when the weather is nice. The interior the building’s new addition contains a spate of study spaces, both private and open, for not only Kelly Hall residents, but all residential students. The spaces address a consistent request from students — more study space, Liberati said.

“The renovation allowed us to use the space we had in a much better way,” Liberati said. “Before, the basement space was underutilized, but adding some natural light, you suddenly have a vibrant and usable space. We didn’t have to add a lot of square footage to the building to significantly change the look and use of the building.”

The common area on the first floor of Kelly Hall is like the “living room of Kelly Hall,” Liberati said. Aside from the group and private study spaces are billiards tables and open spaces, and for the students living in Kelly Hall.

“There is something special about being able to gather and make connections in person,” said Katie Zamulinsky, EdD, associate vice president and dean of Student Life. “Kelly Commons provides a dedicated space for residents — across our buildings — to connect and build deeper relationships through real-time conversations and collaboration on projects and events.” 

Lounge in Kelly Hall
Students in Kelly Hall connect with others through the two-floor “neighborhoods,” which each contain a lounge like this. Photo courtesy of Drexel Business Services. 

The hall has been organized into five two-floor “neighborhoods,” which include about 80 students each. Previously, there were lounges that spanned two floors, but there was no specific intentional use for the spaces. Now, one floor is a living room and the other has a kitchen, and by giving the floors a purpose, Liberati said the hope was that students would interact across floors more.

“The students love the neighborhood idea and have found ways to really connect with new people in the space,” said Zakiyah Ingram, associate director of residence life. “Being able to partner with the adjoining floor has allowed for the RAs [resident assistants] to program [events] and have high attendance. It also has become a hub on the floors, where residents are cooking together, watching movies and just enjoying each other’s company.”

Ingram said students are using and interacting with the space a lot — especially the common area on the first floor — and connecting with classmates and making Kelly Hall home. Professional staff members have been excited to help students connect with Drexel, and the students in turn are excited to be in a new environment in a new place.

Kitchen in Kelly Hall
Students in Kelly Hall connect with others through the two-floor “neighborhoods,” which each contain a kitchen like this. Photo courtesy of Drexel Business Services. 

“From being excited to play pool to cooking meals for each other, the residents have been finding community and that was and is always the goal,” Ingram said.

The renovations on Kelly Hall didn’t just look towards the future of what the hall could be. They also provided a glimpse into the past. During renovations in winter 2021–2022, Real Estate and Facilities unearthed a time capsule from behind the cornerstone and coordinated with Drexel University Archives to safely open the lead-sealed box, which was full of artifacts spanning 1948 to 1969, when the capsule was buried. The contents include photographs, letters, a flag and awards received by the building’s namesakeRalph Kelly, including unique medals and a certificate from France appointing him a “Knight of the Legion of Honor.”

Kelly Hall first opened in 1967 and now, thanks to the new renovations, will continue to provide a home for generations of Dragons to come.