Community Briefing Focuses on University Building Projects, Plans

June 15, 2006 -- University of Virginia officials provided interested community members with an update of current and future building projects during a community briefing in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom on Tuesday, June 13.

More than 80 people heard extensive reports from Richard A. Kovatch, associate vice president for operations, and University architect David J. Neuman during the session, which was sponsored by the Office of Community Relations.
Kovatch focused on John Paul Jones Arena while Neuman described 15 projects that are either under way or in the planning stages on the U.Va. Grounds.

In his opening remarks, Neuman acknowledged that the question of growth is a sensitive topic since it inevitably raises a variety of issues from increased traffic to questions of resources.
"We have to see this as part of the tradeoff of being in a city like Charlottesville with an institution of the quality and with the aspirations of the University of Virginia," Neuman said. "Part of my responsibility is to try to mitigate the impacts of the growth — or to create a positive impact — on your daily lives."

Noting that he is often asked why universities always seem to grow, Neuman said it is a simple matter of demographics. As the commonwealth continues to grow, he added, demand for higher education — especially at the premier institution of higher education in the commonwealth — will also grow.

Since an agreement between the University and the Virginia legislature has mandated the enrollment of an additional 100 students, most of them undergraduates, each year over the next 10 years, Neuman said, the University must absorb between 1,000 and 1,500 more students. Those additional students require additional facilities.

Referring to plans to add an additional 100,000 square feet of classroom space through the South Lawn Project, Neuman said that the intent of that project is not to create a monument.

"The need for this additional space is real. It is related first and foremost to the number of people here — students and faculty, the core of the institution — and to their ability to perform their tasks of learning and conducting research," Neuman said. "One of the missions of the public university or of any institution of higher education of significance is to do research. That is an obligation now and has been modified to include the economic development of the state or region that the institution is in.

"If you are going to be creative, if you are going to follow your muse and learn on your own and with others, it requires state-of-the-art facilities. We have to provide these more technical, more sophisticated spaces."

Neuman said that sustainability is one of the points of emphasis in current planning. That means not only finding better, cleaner ways of burning fuel but also building energy savings into new projects.

"This is not just U.Va.'s issue or Charlottesville's issue," he said of sustainability. "It's everybody's issue."

Kovatch gave a status report on John Paul Jones Arena, which is nearing completion with the opening event, Cirque Du Soleil's "Delerium," scheduled for August 1. Plans currently call for the arena to host up to 100 event dates during its first year, including U.Va. men's and women's basketball games. Kovatch said that 84 event dates have already been scheduled for the first year.

"Many people have wondered why we can't release a list of all the events that have been booked, but the promoters with whom we work to schedule these events control the release of that information and the ticket pricing," he noted. "We are trying to appeal to a cross section of the community with a wide variety of formats. To date, sales have been strong for those events that have begun selling tickets. Clearly it is not just a matter of the new arena that is drawing people but the quality and variety of events."

One of the major concerns Kovatch cited is planning for traffic and parking. The goal, he said, is for everyone to have a positive experience both inside and outside the arena. Parking and traffic plans have been developed based on projected attendance at specific events. The parking plans include spaces being constructed at the new arena but also spaces at University Hall and the Emmet-Ivy Garage.

Kovatch said that while no one expects the parking and traffic plan to be perfect from day one, the processes will be continually evaluated.

"It is hard to believe that three years have gone by since the ground-breaking for the arena," he said. "Though we've had many trials and tribulations along the way, the project continues to be on schedule and on budget. Our arena will be second to none."

Ida Lee Wootten, director of community relations at the University, moderated the community briefing, which included a question and answer period.