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College leaders grapple with state of Arts & Sciences buildings

Rouss Hall
Photos by Rebecca Arrington
Rouss Hall, built 102 years ago, houses the economics department and University classrooms.

Rouss HallBy Rebecca Arrington

The University's Academical Village is recognized internationally as an architectural treasure. Its historic buildings are named to the prestigious World Heritage List. Yet the interiors of many of the Stanford White-designed buildings at the south end of this complex -- namely Cocke and Rouss halls -- and new Cabell are in dire need of repair. In fact, 12 of the Arts & Sciences 22 buildings throughout the Grounds are in fair or poor condition, according to the University's most recent facilities condition index report.

"We need to focus on enhancing our physical infrastructure," the needs of which consistently receive inadequate support from the state, said Arts & Sciences Dean Melvyn P. Leffler. To that end, the University has formed the College Foundation to increase private funding. The foundation's newly formed Buildings and Grounds Committee will meet later this month for the first time to assess A&S physical plant needs and develop a strategy for implementing improvements.

New Cabell Hall
New Cabell Hall was built in the 1950s to join Stanford White's historic Old Cabell Hall.

Leffler also created a new position of associate dean for planning and operations, filled recently by Joseph Grasso, former vice president of finance and administration at Allegheny College and budget director at Colgate University. Grasso will plan and manage capital renovation of Arts & Sciences facilities, working closely with the College Foundation and the A&S development office, as well as with the University administration.

"I believe the state has a moral obligation to renovate and maintain its buildings," Grasso said. "But due to its lack of systematic support, the College must take responsibility for raising private funds to meet its building needs."

Both he and Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, agree that raising money for maintenance will prove challenging.

The need is great, as is reflected in the facilities condition index report, produced by Facilities Management and used as a guideline by the state in calculating agencies' maintenance reserve funds, Sheehy said. Any building exceeding a 10 percent index rating, determined by dividing the deferred maintenance needs by the replacement value of the building, is considered fair or poor. However, despite the report, "the state doesn't provide adequate funding for maintenance needs," she said. Currently there's a $90 million backlog in deferred maintenance University-wide, and an $18.4 million maintenance reserve deficiency for Arts & Sciences.

A broken window in Cocke Hall.

Among A&S buildings, Rouss Hall tops the condition report with an index of 43.1 percent. The average index of A&S buildings is 16.4 percent, and the average age of these buildings is 60 years. Rouss, Cocke, Fayerweather and new Cabell have been on the list submitted to the state for some 10 years and Gilmer for four, said capital budget manager Tom LeBack.

The president and vice presidents prioritize U.Va.'s capital outlay plan, which includes the needs of Arts & Sciences, as well as the University's other nine schools, Sheehy said. Following approval from the Board of Visitors, the University submits its plan to the state every six years, and updates it every two years. Grasso cited North Carolina as a good model of a state committed to higher education. Over the next 6 years, thanks to a $3.1 billion bond act, UNC-Chapel Hill will receive $500 million, with $165 million of that total earmarked for arts and sciences initiatives. "Because of North Carolina's concerted effort to invest in its higher education facilities, UNC-Chapel Hill will be in a much stronger position in relation to its peer institutions" in the near future, he said. "The quality of its facilities may give it a serious advantage over its peers in attracting the best faculty, researchers and students."

Faculty lists 'old house' problems

Faculty members who have to "live" in the University's older buildings, such as Rouss, Cocke and new Cabell halls where their departments or classes are housed, can easily list the problems resulting from insufficient resources for renovation and maintenance. Lack of space for classes, offices, conference rooms and commons areas are some of the concerns, as well as areas prone to flooding, doubling up of faculty offices, and classrooms in which the desks are bolted to the floor.

Religious studies chair Harry Gamble said the headquarters of his department in the "nether regions" of Cocke Hall, "presents a thoroughly subterranean aspect: exposed pipes and wires, utility closets, painted-over windows and dingy walls. Such environs depress the morale of faculty and students alike, surprise visitors, deter prospective students, and belie the standing of the department."

What worries economics chair William Johnson is that "we have lost potential faculty recruits when they saw the inside of Rouss." Built in 1899 as a physics lab, it has not been substantially refurbished since the early 1950s.

In new Cabell Hall, "it's impossible to get classroom space to meet pedagogical needs," said Jeff Legro, interim chair of government and foreign affairs. "There's simply no space to meet the demand. The number of students in our department keeps going up, but the space available never changes."

This 8-foot-by-12-foot room in Cocke Hall serves as the office for some 25 graduate teaching assistants in religious studies.

The Virginia House of Delegates recently approved a referendum that, if passed by the Senate, would have voters consider an $803 million bond issue this fall for higher education capital projects. Up to now, U.Va. has received $108 million from the state in capital funding over the past 14 years (exclusive of the state's reserve maintenance fund for basic repairs). Of this amount, the College has received $49 million during this time. Only one new A&S building, Bryan Hall, has been built in the past 25 years, Grasso noted.

"It is embarrassing when parents and students tell me that their high schools were in better shape than our buildings and provided a more conducive atmosphere for learning and studying," Leffler said. "It is disconcerting when faculty question whether they should stay or come here given the state of their offices and laboratories."

Leffler is encouraged, however, by the plans for the arts precinct and the new technology center. "I am enthusiastically planning for the Digital Academical Village -- the College's VA 2020 information technology 'bridge center' for the humanities and social sciences. ...We have raised $35 million in private money so far."

The Digital Academical Village, which the College hopes to build within three to four years, will provide temporary space for occupants as other A&S buildings undergo renovation, Grasso said. "If we don't renovate our core buildings, departments will have an increasingly difficult time attracting the highest quality researchers and faculty, as well as students."


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