Let There Be Light

October 7, 2022 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

What had originally been designed as light wells for the original Alderman Library are turning into skylit study courts and presentation halls.

For several weeks, Kevin O’Donnell of Vector Constructs of Wichita, Kansas, and Jose Sanchez, along with the workers on the Alderman Library renovation, have been assembling and installing 47- by 31-foot skylights in both the east and west courtyards of the Depression-era library.

Workers assembled the 17,000-pound skylight frames on the ground before a crane lifted them and nestled them into place. After workers secured the frames and placed concrete around the edges, they installed the 40 glass panes, each roughly 6 by 8 feet – by affixing suction cups to the 900-pound panes and hoisting them into place with a crane.

The 1938 courtyards were originally designed as light shafts to bring sunlight into the interior of Alderman Library. They will still bring light into the library, but they will be converted into usable interior spaces where students can study. Each study room, to be accessed from the second floor, will be about two stories high, with moveable planters and furniture so the spaces can be used for presentations and events.

Several of the existing second-floor windows have been turned into doorways to give students easy access to the courtyards. The ground floors of each shaft are being turned into much-needed office space.

The renovation, which will upgrade the library’s safety and HVAC systems, add study space for students, and house approximately 1 million books in open stacks will create a University Avenue-facing entrance and increase access to Clemons Library, is scheduled to be completed in late fall of 2023.

A massive frame occupies a large area on the ground of a construction site
The metal frames of the two skylights were assembled on the ground first.
A construction worker in a safety vest and hard hat holds a large hook on a chain in one hand and a strap secured around the corner of a frame in the other
Kevin O’Donnell of Vector Constructs pulls down a chain in anticipation of lifting the skylight frame pieces.
A frame is lowered into the library courtyard
The crane operator carefully lowered the skylight frame halves into place in the Alderman light shafts.
Against a partly cloudy sky, a crane lowers a pane of glass
Once the frames were in place, the individual glass panes were lifted in by crane.
On hands and knees, two workers guide the pane of glass into the frame
When the skylight glass panes were lowered to the frame, workers carefully settled them into place.
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Standing inside the frame, two workers oversee another pane of glass as the crane lowers it
Workers guide a glass pane as the crane operator lowers it.
A worker on a lift and a worker on the roof next to the frame ease another pane of glass into place
One on top, one coming up from underneath, workers start to anchor the glass panes in place.
A worker on hands and knees on a pane of already installed glass guides another pane into place
Jose Sanchez of Vector Constructs positions a pane of glass in the skylight frame.
A worker tightens a bolt into the clamping mechanism
Once settled, the glass panes were clamped into place.
Through a tall, arched window, a triangular pane of glass is visible, being lifted by the crane
The old and the new – viewing a skylight pane through one of Alderman Library’s original high windows.
A worker sits on a large, orange toolbox in front of a sheet of OSB
Kevin O’Donnell of Vector Constructs takes a break after a skylight was completed.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications