University of Virginia Chapel to Get More Accessible Entrance

December 14, 2009

December 14, 2009 — The University Chapel's main entrance is getting a new look.

David Neuman, architect for the University, said the work will facilitate access to the building, improve the quality of the space in front of the chapel and alter the flow of pedestrian traffic past the building.

The Gothic-style building on McCormick Road currently has a temporary ramp to allow access for people with disabilities.

Crews will landscape the front of the building to create a gentle slope toward the building, putting the outside patio on the same level as the floor of the chapel. The improvements will be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Neuman said.

"It will improve the appearance with a brick and concrete patio," he said. "It will be more commodious after a wedding or a funeral for people to gather outside."

The changes will also deflect some of the day-to-day traffic away from the chapel, to avoid interfering with events or services there.

As part of the project, landscapers removed a trident maple tree and an American holly tree, as well as two American boxwoods. They will be replaced by three disease-resistant American elms, a paper bark maple and some low shrubs.

While winter is not the best time for a landscaping project, Neuman said it is the season when the chapel's calendar of events is lightest and students are gone during the Christmas break. The chapel will remain open during the work, with the east door serving as its entrance.

The non-denominational chapel was built in the 1880s, according to Brian E. Hogg, senior preservation planner in the Office of the Architect. He said from its beginnings, there has been a movement to have a place for religious services at the University. While U.Va. founder Thomas Jefferson resisted a chapel because he wanted the school to be secular, he did permit services in the Rotunda.

Hogg said there was a push in the mid-19th century to build a chapel, with a space on the end of the Lawn opposite the Rotunda briefly considered as a potential site. William Pratt, the superintendent of buildings, had a drawing for the building. In latter part of the century, the Ladies Chapel Aid Society raised the $15,000 to $20,000 toward construction of a chapel designed by architect Charles E. Cassell.

The chapel was the domain of the University chaplain, an office that rotated among several denominations, though Hogg said they were usually Protestant. The office of the chaplain existed into the 1950s, he said. The chapel is currently managed by the Newcomb Hall staff.

There are no regular services at the chapel, though it is frequently used for weddings and funerals. He said musical performances and student group meetings are regularly scheduled there.

The renovations will cost around $250,000, paid for by donations from the Arboretum and Landscape Committee, the Grounds Improvement Fund and the Accessibility Committee. The work should be completed in February.

— By Matt Kelly