Chimney Project on Time, Within Budget, Thanks to Dedicated Teamwork

November 16, 2012

Just as the first chill of winter begins to settle upon the Grounds, the smell of hardwood smoke will once again drift from the student rooms lining the Lawn.

The project to repair the fireplaces on the Lawn and Range and install a fire suppression system has been completed on time and within its approximate $3.5 million budget, Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, told the Buildings and Grounds Committee at the Board of Visitors meeting on Nov. 7.

The extensive scope of the renovation project involved:

  • 106 operating fireplaces and 62 brick chimneys repaired;
  • 106 existing concrete linings demolished and replaced with new stainless steel liners;
  • New sprinkler piping in dorm rooms, attics and basements installed, employing 1.5 miles of piping and 650 sprinkler heads;
  • Nine underground and five aboveground water utility connections were made.

To accomplish the restoration, six specialty construction firms and 10 Facilities Management construction trades were used – which included more than 160 facilities management tradespeople as well as 90 outside workers.

The Academical Village Chimney Project was funded through a combination of donations and maintenance funds.

“This was a complicated and challenging project that engaged 10 different University construction trades, six specialty contractors and over 250 people, and the work was all accomplished within five months after only five weeks of planning,” said Jody Lahendro, historic preservation architect with Facilities Management.

“It was a success for one main reason – the tradespeople who performed the work. Their dedication, skills and teamwork rose to successfully meet this difficult task,” he said.

Since May, U.Va. Facilities Management workers and outside crews have been working to repair the dangerous cracked chimneys and install fire suppression systems inside the Lawn and Range rooms.

On Nov. 15 at Ern Commons, James Zehmer, the historic preservation project manager for this restoration, organized an appreciation lunch for about 200 people involved with the chimney project, including the 160 Facilities Management tradespeople who so diligently worked to complete the project in a timely manner.

“The University of Virginia is designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and so, we are all entrusted with a great heirloom,” Zehmer said. “We have a duty to act as stewards of this place, to ensure that both the built environment and the heritage of the University are preserved and passed down to the next generation.

“Part of that heritage is having safe, operable fireplaces in the Academical Village, so that the heart and soul of Mr. Jefferson’s University will continue to burn bright for years to come.”

Dating back to the University’s founding, the coveted rooms on the Lawn and Range are home to select fourth-year and graduate students and have long had working fireplaces. Because central heat was added in the early 20th century, using the fireplaces is largely symbolic – although this remains one of the great U.Va. traditions.

By restoring the use of fireplaces, historic preservation at U.Va. becomes not just about preserving historic buildings, but also about preserving the U.Va. student experience.

In 2010, while fixing the gabled roofs between Pavilions VII and IX, workers found deep cracks within some of the chimneys.

Black Goose Chimneys, an outside contractor, then examined all the chimneys and fireplaces and found problems with the chimneys, flues, fireboxes and dampers. Students were told not to use the fireplaces until they could be completely repaired, as the cracked chimneys and flues could allow fire to spread into the roofs over the rooms.

Since West Range rooms 1 and 3 burned nearly 100 years ago, there has not been significant damage in the Lawn rooms by accidental fires. Fire safety remains a priority. Only after extensive training are the Academical Village’s student residents allowed to have fires.

The fire safety training consists of several in-depth steps beginning with basic awareness such as identifying the tools (tongs, poker, log rack, screen) and understanding their uses. The lessons then involve starting a fire, what to do after the fire is lit and the process of disposing of ashes.

Detailed training is offered in the use of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and the sprinkler system.  Further, students must master a thorough list of do’s and don’ts, including “Do plan to be in your room when you have a fire burning” and “Don’t build roaring fires.”

With safety in mind this December, the open doors on the Lawn will show fires burning on the hearths – with student residents comfortably studying once again before their fireplaces in the cozy quarters of their rooms – thanks to the timely completion of the chimney restoration project.


Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications