Final act: Casteen dedicates Bavaro Hall
In perhaps his last public appearance as president of UVA, John Casteen today dedicated Bavaro Hall, the long-awaited $37 million addition to the Curry School of Education, which has doubled the size of the school. It was a fitting end for a man who has presided over the construction or purchase of 134 buildings for UVA. That’s a lot of golden shovel and ribbon-cutting appearances.
“I think this is the last thing Betsy and I will be doing in our current identities,” Casteen told the crowd.
One of his goals during his presidency, Casteen joked, was to see an open field where Bavaro Hall now stands. “I failed,” he deadpanned.
The new building was designed by Darden School architect Robert A.M. Stern, and includes multiple open conversation areas, conference rooms, and a garden courtyard. The building–- executed in a neo-Jeffersonianism complete with brick columns and hints of Boston's Faneuil Hall–- transforms a stretch of Emmet Street by blocking the old view of Ruffner Hall.
Robert Pianta, dean of the formerly Ruffner-centric Curry School, called the project a complicated one that “went off without a hitch.” He thanked Casteen for his vision and also thanked Daniel M. Meyers, the chair of the Curry Foundation and former CEO and co-founder of First Marblehead Corp., a Boston company that specializes in facilitating privately funded student loans, who donated $23 million to its construction and chose the building's name.
Meyers took his company public in 2003, cashing out $80 million and holding on to $188 million more. In 2005, improper gifts to a female executive at Bank of America led to Meyers’ resignation as CEO. And in September 2007, Meyers and First Marlblehead were featured in a New York Times story on the types of student loans that were being compared to sub-prime mortgages, as they’re marketed to students unable to obtain cheaper government subsidized loans and come with higher interest rates.
According to the Times, the average interest on a loan from Marblehead is 11 percent, while federal student loans can’t go above 6.8 percent. In the last decade, business has been booming as college costs have soared and so has the amount of debt students are carrying.
In January of 2007, First Marlblehead’s stock reached a high of $55 a share, but as of dedication day the stock was selling for just $2.51 a share.
Meyers jokingly tried to hide behind several people when he was singled out for praise by Pianta, prompting a friend of Meyers (we assume) to quip, “He’s too big to hide.”
Casteen also told the story of the late Anthony “Wally” D. Bavaro, a former NFL player and beloved high school teacher in the Boston area whom Meyers had always admired.
As one speaker pointed out, most people who donate millions to the construction of a building want their name on it. Not Meyers. Having lost his own father when he was a boy, Meyers wanted to honor his old teacher, who had been a father figure to him and many other boys in the Boston area. And Bavaro’s widow, Chris, was there to cut the ribbon on the building.
Meyers, too, praised Casteen for his willingness to "let us dream" and for giving them "a long leash" when he agreed to support the project. He also thanked UVA COO Leonard Sandridge, whom he credited with getting things done behind the scenes. "When you pull back the curtain, he's the Wizard of Oz," said Meyers.
Meyers, who said he shed an uncharacteristic tear on first seeing the building, told a story that demonstrated what Wally Bavaro meant to the underprivileged kids he taught and mentored. Bavaro taught at a school in Chelsea, one of the tougher neighborhoods in Boston, said Meyers, and one night a gang of hoodlums broke into the school and spray-painted profanities and insults on the doors of teachers' classrooms. “But on Wally’s door they wrote 'best teacher',” said Meyers.
Indeed, a plaque with the new UVA school’s statement of purpose is dedicated to Wally Bavaro, and tells his story as a way to dramatize the school’s mission while “honoring a great human spirit,”Casteen said.