June 28, 2011 — Several rooms along the University of Virginia's historic West Range are being refurbished this summer and the area will be landscaped to prevent erosion.
Rooms 1 through 15 are undergoing renovation, including No. 13, which is preserved in memory of former student Edgar Allan Poe.
The room restoration will include refinishing the floors, repairing and painting the plaster, replacing the sinks, installing ceiling fans and replacing window sashes.
James Zehmer, historic preservation project manager for the University, said the floors would be lightly sanded to remove the finish, then given a coat of shellac and two coats of paste wax, similar to the treatment they received when they were new.
While the range's student residents are not allowed to attach furniture, such as bunk beds, to the walls, they are allowed to hang pictures and put tacks in the walls. The plaster walls, which are largely original, will be repaired as needed, using a traditional lime plaster.
The Lawn and Range rooms are the oldest student housing on Grounds, but they have hard-wired data ports and full wireless service.
"The renovation and restoration are designed to make a nice livable space for a 21st-century student in a 19th-century room," Zehmer said. "These rooms are not museums; they are closer to a living organism."
No. 13 West Range, however, is a museum of sorts dedicated to the writer Poe, a student at the University in 1826. [The room is closed off, frozen in time with the sparse furnishings of the school's early years. There is a clear panel in place of the door so visitors can observe without disturbing it. Renovations for Poe's room will include new lighting, a new voice recorder to explain about Poe and possibly more historically accurate furniture.
"We are re-examining the furnishings to see if we can determine with greater accuracy what's appropriate," said Mark Kutney, architectural conservator with the University Architect's office.
The Raven Society, which is responsible for maintaining the room, is also working on the project.
Outside the rooms, the grassy area between the Range rooms and McCormick Road will see extensive erosion control work. The sidewalk on the east side of McCormick Road will be widened to eight feet and a retaining wall will be installed along the sidewalk to prevent further erosion of the bank.
"The bank slopes down to the sidewalk and because the sidewalk is narrow, people walk on the grass," said Richard Hopkins, landscape superintendent. "We have never been able to maintain a turf cover there."
The walls, which will extend up the alleyways to the end of the arcades outside the Range rooms, will hold the soil in place, Zehmer said. The concrete and stone veneer barriers will be about 18 inches at their highest point, with the grassy area coming to the top of the wall. Underground drains will move stormwater away from the buildings and prevent the drip-line erosion that currently exists under the eaves.
"In the end, this will be a cleaner edge and it will be easier to maintain," Hopkins said. "This is a nice fix to the problem."
Parking is restricted on McCormick Road during the project. Mews, Poe, Patterson, Colonnade and McGuffey alleys will be closed at different times during construction. Pavilion residents and other affected parties will be notified in advance of any alley closings.
Once the project is completed, parking will be prohibited on the east side of McCormick Road. This will be necessary to allow two-way traffic on McCormick Road, since the sidewalk expansion will extend into the current roadway.
"Technically, there has always been no parking on the east side of McCormick Road, but people have parked there anyway," Zehmer said.
The handicapped parking on west side of McCormick Road, near Monroe Hall, will be restored once the project is completed.