East Range Utility Work Closes Rotunda Alley

July 10, 2024 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

What started out as a leaky heat pipe turned into an extensive utility repair on the University of Virginia’s historic East Range.

“We noticed a leak in one of the heat pipes last fall, performed a temporary repair on it to get us through the wintertime and came back this summer to perform the work,” Ryan Taylor, assistant director for maintenance operations at Facilities Management, said.

As might be familiar to homeowners, the simple leak ended up creating an extensive operation. The utilities – which include heating pipes, domestic hot and cold water, electrical lines, data and phone cables and fire alarm cables – run under the East Range’s student rooms, which stretch from Randall Hall to Brooks Hall.

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“On further investigation, some of the electrical conduit had totally corroded away,” Taylor said. “We had to replace that as part of the scope of what we’re doing this summer.”

Any project involving 200-year-old buildings can have surprises. This is no exception.

“We found a lot of conduits with electrical and communication cabling did not appear on our Geographic Information System drawings,” Cameron Ratliff, associate director for energy and utilities, said. “We had to do a temporary route around outside of our scope of work.”

To accommodate the work, Facilities Management crews have closed Rotunda Alley between 4 and 6 East Range. A temporary road was built around the block of rooms to allow access for pavilion residents and emergency vehicles. 

Part of the floor in 4 East Range was removed to give workers access to the utilities underneath.
Part of the floor in 4 East Range was removed to give workers access to the utilities underneath. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications.)

Of course, Thomas Jefferson’s original designs for the historic East Range did not anticipate the different utilities that need to be accommodated today. 

“When these rooms were built, they were built on top of dirt,” Taylor said. “So the crawlspace was initially literally inches of space, and crews long ago came through and dug out enough dirt to fit a person in and install the utilities.”

With modern safety standards, many of those spaces are now too small to safely fit people inside.

“Part of our challenge with this is … we have to connect utilities underneath the two student rooms that are adjacent to the road,” Ryan said. “In 4 East Range, we had to remove part of the hardwood flooring to provide safe access to the crawlspace.”

The heart pine boards that were taken up were not part of the original floors.

“That floor was replaced at some point,” Taylor said. “It is an older floor, but it’s not original. We removed part of it and protected the section of flooring that remained. Our intention is to reinstall that same wood material when we’re done with utility work.”

Facilities Management masons trained in working with historic fabric work on the foundation wall of 6 East Range.
Facilities Management masons trained in working with historic fabric work on the foundation wall of 6 East Range. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications.)

The brick foundation walls are original from the 1820s and the historic masons will have to repair those walls and waterproof them once the utilities are in place and before the road is put back together.

“We excavated in places that we hadn’t done recently,” Taylor said. “We’ve got probably 12- to 16-inch-thick masonry walls that we had to deal with where the utilities penetrated through. We will have to do some work on both the exterior and interior to restore the walls.”

This project has been a team effort for Facilities Management, requiring the work of many different skilled trades.

“So far, we’ve had the maintenance zone plumbers and electricians, historic carpenters, historic brick masons, energy and utilities, and fire and life safety rerouting their wiring for the fire alarm systems,” Ratliff said. It was just a huge collaborative effort.”

Once Rotunda Alley is reopened, the temporary road will stay in place for a while to accommodate work being done at Randall Hall.

The current utility work began shortly after graduation and is slated to be complete by Aug. 1.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications