December 7, 2010 — Saying that the current water supply situation puts the local community at risk, Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the University of Virginia, on Tuesday urged action on the long-term water supply plan originally agreed to by local jurisdictions in 2006.
In his last scheduled appearance before the Neighborhood Advisory Group, he said the water supply issue "is a problem that needs to be addressed and must be addressed."
He noted that during a severe drought in 2002, authorities discussed the possibility of closing the University to save water. "That is not a good solution," he told a luncheon gathering of about 40 University-area neighborhood leaders at the Cavalier Inn.
Albemarle County, the city of Charlottesville, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and the Albemarle County Service Authority reached agreement in June 2006 on what was then termed a 50-year solution: the expansion of the Ragged Mountain reservoir and the construction of a pipeline between the South Fork and Ragged Mountain reservoirs.
Since then, the city has backed away from the plan, instead calling for more research into other water supply options, including dredging the South Fork Reservoir.
Sandridge said that the University had Cheryl Gomez, director of energy and utilities, examine the options and she determined that the original plan – including a new dam at Ragged Mountain, and not an expansion of the existing one – is the best solution. He said he has offered to share the University's conclusions with the city, and has already spoken with several members of the county Board of Supervisors, which has maintained its support of the 2006 plan.
Sandridge called for action soon. The status quo, he told the neighborhood leaders, "is a risk to you, a risk for the University and a risk for businesses in the community. It is time to reach an agreement."
In other remarks, Sandridge, who will retire from the University in May, reminisced about some of the changes the University and community have gone through during his more than four decades of service and outlined some of the challenges they will face going forward.
His impending departure comes at a time when town-gown relations appear to be on an upward swing.
Student activism in the 1970s and Easters Weekend, an annual multi-day, alcohol-fueled outdoor party that regularly forced the closing of streets in the Rugby Road area, sparked friction between the University and its neighbors. More recently, controversy surrounding the design and the construction of the 1,200-space Ivy-Emmet Parking Garage, which opened in 2003, led the University to increase its outreach to surrounding neighborhoods.
Sandridge credited the Office of Community Relations – which sponsored Tuesday's meeting – with fostering an improved relationship with close-in neighborhoods. He said the neighborhoods' feedback "helped us get better."
"It's a little like a marriage," he said. "It's a relationship that requires constant attention."
Going forward, he told the group that U.Va. is likely to absorb additional enrollment growth as a result of the recommendations of Gov. Bob McDonnell's Commission on Higher Education, estimating that the University could take in an additional 1,400 undergraduate and 100 graduate students over a four- or five-year period.
Most of the infrastructure to accommodate the growth already exists on Grounds, he noted, and said that the University plans to keep construction within its current footprint in the foreseeable future.
He also forecast a slowdown in University building projects beginning in 18 to 24 months, as projects currently under construction reach an end and the effects of a slowdown in state and private funding begin to be felt.
The economy, he said, has impacted U.Va.'s finances, but noted that the University has steadfastly refused to lay off its employees, though its workforce has shrunk in recent years due to attrition. The University, including the U.Va. Health System, employed about 18,000 people in 2009 with a total payroll exceeding $1 billion.
Saying that no neighborhood meeting would be complete without talking about parking, Sandridge reported that students are registering fewer cars than in years past, and more students are taking advantage of transportation alternatives, including buses, carpooling and the Zipcar short-term rental service.
In the public comment session that followed, several attendees lauded Sandridge for his attention to community issues.
David Neuman, architect for the University, also gave the group a status report on the University's sustainability efforts. Referring to a 2006 report, he said the University has achieved or is in the process of achieving 90 percent of its recommendations.