Rotunda Tenants Pack Up, Move Out

Christine Wells sorts through Rotunda artifacts

Christine Wells, who manages the operations of the Rotunda, sorts through a few of the items that must be removed before two years of renovations begin Monday.

The planning started months ago, determining who and what was going where. The packing went on for weeks. Now the Rotunda is nearly empty.

On Monday, the University of Virginia begins a two-year renovation of the centerpiece of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village. Workers will upgrade mechanical systems, repair portico roofs, replace column capitals and install new fire and life safety systems.

But before all that work could start, the Rotunda had to be emptied of people and possessions.

The north and south wings of the Rotunda contain offices: the Board of Visitors in the northwest wing, the Office of Advancement in the northeast wing, the Office of Student Affairs in the southwest wing and the Office of the Architect for the University in the southeast wing. All are relocating to temporary space; some moved out well before graduation.

Joann Im, assistant director for space management for Facilities Management, has been coordinating with the Rotunda’s tenants.

“Everyone has been great to work with,” Im said. “A lot of them have been looking at this as an opportunity to purge some of their files. We have been cataloguing everything in the building, because the plan is for them to come back here when the renovations are done.”

University Advancement’s offices have relocated to Fontaine Research Park, where much of the rest of the organization’s staff reside.

“Though it took far more time than we planned for, we enjoyed a lot of good laughs and strolls down Memory Lane as we packed up more than 20 years’ worth of office materials in the northeast wing,” said Kathryn L. Jarvis, assistant vice president and chief of staff in the Office of the Senior Vice President for University Advancement.

“Some of our best laughs came whenever the youngest member of our staff found items that were totally foreign to her – 29-cent stamps that had to be licked (she’s only known the peel-and-stick kind), a Dictaphone complete with foot pedal, a replacement ball for the carriage of an electric typewriter. Apparently nothing was ever, ever thrown away.”

Jarvis said the Advancement staff will miss the Rotunda because of the “energy we get from being around the students and visitors we’d see on the Lawn every day. We know that when we return, we’ll be returning to a space that’s been ‘modernized’ in important ways to make it safer and more accessible and more technology-friendly, but without changing its heart or its character.”

The Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs had a shorter move, just down the Lawn to Pavilion V, home of Patricia Lampkin, the vice president and chief student affairs officer.

“I don’t separate my work and my life,” Lampkin said, noting that moving her office into her pavilion has inconvenienced other people more than her. She has shut down her pavilion’s “movie room,” where small groups of students gathered for screenings, and converted a classroom on the main floor into her office. Most of her staff will work downstairs in what they refer to as “the alley level,” refusing to call it a basement.

Lampkin said the decision to move her office into her pavilion was easy once she knew her family supported her.

“I wanted to stay on the Lawn so the students would know where we were,” Lampkin said. “I didn’t want to go off someplace and be a hidden entity.”

The Office of the Architect is moving twice, first to a trailer on Lane Road, then to Pavilion II, once Facilities Management completes some minor renovations. (Typically a faculty residence, the pavilion is being temporarily converted for office use for the duration of the Rotunda project.)

“A lot of our furniture is being stored,” said office manager Melanie Price. “There isn’t room for it in the trailer or in Pavilion II, but then we are supposed to be coming back here.”

The architect’s office has been in its present location since 1992, and there are a lot of things to go through.

“I have been finding all sorts of stuff I had forgotten I had worked on,” said Constance Warnock, assistant University architect. “These were things that really consumed my life for a while and really seemed important at the time.”

Price noted that many paper files had been converted to electronic versions, which simplified moving.

The last to move will be the Board of Visitors’ office. That office will remain in place until after the June 9 Board of Visitors meeting, which will take place in the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture instead of the board’s customary space in the Rotunda’s Upper East Oval Room. Afterward, the staff will relocate to the Boar’s Head Inn complex for a short time before moving to Pavilion II with the Office of the Architect.

While the various units in the wings have been moving, the Rotunda itself was getting packed up. Some items will go on display at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, at the president’s official residence at Carr’s Hill and at the Fralin Museum of Art.

Christine Wells, manager of the Rotunda operations, has been going through closets, cabinets and corners, fastidiously sorting things to pack, store or discard. Among the things she has found has been a box of keys, some small and brass and others large and steel, for which there no longer appear to be corresponding locks. There were two boxes of ceramic dishes – possibly candy dishes – and two boxes of U.Va. glasses with gold rims, possibly used for Board of Visitors meetings.

Wells also found several old academic gowns. Alexander “Sandy” Gilliam, University historian and former Board of Visitors secretary, said the robes may once have been stored in the board’s office, to be lent to visiting faculty and other dignitaries for University ceremonies. One robe had belonged to John Calvin Metcalf, an English professor and dean of the Department of Graduate Studies from 1923 to 1938, whose name had been sewed inside the garment.

Some furniture stayed until the very end because students were still using the Rotunda as a study space during final exams. Others used rooms for their dissertation defenses.

“We would have three of them going on at the same time,” Wells said.

The final tour of the Rotunda was held April 30. The University Guides will be operating out of the Harrison Institute once the school year starts up again. 

There has been a lot of activity in the building for the past month.

“I came in one day and there were two of the biggest rolls of bubble wrap I had ever seen,” Wells said. “They were almost as tall as a person and I couldn’t get my arms around them.” The wrap was being used to pack the art and artifacts that fill the building.

A special crate is being built to house the Alexander Galt statute of University founder Thomas Jefferson. Made of Carrara marble and weighing 3½ tons, the 6-foot-2½-inch, life-sized statue of Jefferson standing on a 14-inch pedestal will reside in storage during the renovation.

Carved in 1860, the statue has survived previous renovations and the fire that heavily damaged the Rotunda in 1895. Students rescued the figure, along with art and books, when they realized that the flames, which had started in the building’s annex, would spread to Jefferson’s masterpiece.

“There are some chips in Jefferson’s cloak from that move,” Wells said.

This time around, the movers will be more careful.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications