Apprentice Chris Toney Speaks About Working in Jeffersonian Buildings
Chris Toney knows a good opportunity when he spots it. In 2005, the 26-year-old Buckingham County, Virginia, native began working full time as a landscaper in the University of Virginia’s Facilities Management division.
Toney’s ambition leapt when he heard about the Facilities Management Apprenticeship Program. “I applied for five years in a row before I got in the carpentry program,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity, and so many people apply.”
Begun in 1982 the Apprenticeship Program is a highly selective program for motivated applicants to learn a skilled trade through a combination of on-the-job training, technical education and classroom instruction in a four-year program. It is the first of its kind at a public university.
Once accepted, Toney hit the ground running. Apprentices train by rotating each year to different “zones” around Grounds. Toney’s “home zone,” where he spent his first year, was the University’s historic precinct, which includes the Academical Village.
As a first-year carpenter apprentice, he spent a large chunk of his time helping with the extensive Pavilion IX renovation. His crew demolished old plaster, moved interior walls and built chases in the brick walls to install new plumbing pipes and electrical wires. “When I started working there, I began finding books to read about its history. I wanted to know more,” he recalled. “One time when I was in the main living area of Pavilion IX, I thought, ‘Thomas Jefferson must have walked through here and approved the work.’ That’s cool to think about.”
In his second year, Toney worked in the U.Va. Hospital, where he helped renovate patient rooms and intensive care units. Now in his third year, his assignment is the North Grounds zone. For the final year of his apprenticeship, Toney will return to his home zone, the heart of the U.Va. Grounds.
Toney takes pride in knowing that he now belongs to a long tradition of craftspeople who over the past two centuries have built and cared for the University’s most treasured buildings. “Everything you touch as you work, you think about all the people who came before you and also touched it” he said.
Looking ahead, Toney speaks with gratitude for the opportunity the program has given him. “I’ll tell anyone, I am proud of my job. When you build a house, you don’t start with the roof. You start at the ground. That’s what the apprenticeship has given me, a great chance to learn from the ground up.”