October 19, 2011 — The University of Virginia has developed a proposal to repair the chimneys in its historic Lawn and Range rooms this year, and have the work funded by private donations – the first of which was announced Wednesday.
The coveted rooms, which date back to the University's founding and are home to select fourth-year and graduate students, have long had working fireplaces; it is a tradition for those students to have fires in their rooms during the winter.
However, inspections performed in August detected cracks in the flues and chimneys and University officials have prohibited fires in the rooms until the chimneys can be repaired.
University officials have estimated it will cost $3.7 million to repair all 106 chimneys and install a modern fire suppression system. This works out to about $35,000 per room and all the money must be raised privately, officials said.
The "Keep the Fires Burning" campaign has received its first major gift, $100,000 from a former Lawn resident, University spokeswoman Carol Wood said Wednesday. The gift will be enough to fix three of the chimneys, she said.
Facilities Management crews found cracks in the chimneys during roof work on the Academical Village. An outside contractor, Black Goose Chimneys, then examined all of the chimneys and fireplaces on the Lawn and Ranges and found problems with the chimneys, flues, fireboxes and dampers. Black Goose recommended that students not use the fireplaces until they could be repaired, as the cracked chimneys and flues could allow fire to spread into the roofs over the rooms, where there are no firebreaks.
Lawn and Range residents were keenly disappointed.
"Structurally and symbolically, the hearth is the focal point of the room," said Jack Thorman, a graduate student in the Curry School of Education, who is a member of the Range Council, a group that represents the graduate students who live in the Range rooms.
If the money can be raised, University officials hope to start repairs in time to allow students to enjoy their hearths during the winter. The University has sought proposals from contractors to repair the chimneys, and U.Va. Facilities Management employees will install the fire suppression system. School officials hope to perform the work at a time when it does not disrupt the lives of the students, but this leaves a narrow window to raise the money.
"There is no capacity to fund this project within the University's current budget without materially affecting other priorities, including those that affect student life," Michael Strine, executive vice president and chief operating officer, wrote in an email to Lawn and Range residents. "The University is prepared to launch a fundraising campaign and we would like to involve you, if you're interested."
Fourth-year student Reedy Swanson, chief Lawn resident, said the students are eager to help.
"There's been an enthusiastic response from residents to the administration's call for help in fundraising," he said. "We look forward to getting to work quickly to explore avenues within the University and without to raise this money."
Swanson said a website for gifts is under construction. Alumni outreach is soon to follow, although there have been some "tentative commitments."
While Lawn and Range residents hope the project will allow them to have fires this academic year, Swanson said they do not want a prolonged process that will mean chimney repair while they are trying to live in their rooms.
In his email, Strine said he is optimistic this can be avoided.
"The sooner we get the funds in hand, the sooner we can start work," Strine wrote. "For example, were we to secure the funds by the end of the month, we could complete the project by Winter Break. Once we have enough commitments to move forward, we will gather again with you to figure out the best plan to get the work done."
"I think many people are excited by the possibility that we may not have to go all year without the fireplaces," Swanson said. "We're definitely glad that the administration has agreed with our view that the fireplaces are an integral component of the historical value in the Academical Village."