Arts center tops new building list
By Jane Ford and Dan Heuchert
The Board of Visitors’ Buildings & Grounds Committee has approved a pair of high-profile building projects that may significantly alter the University’s eastern and western approaches by 2010.
The two buildings, an arts center and a multi-level Health System parking facility, were among five construction projects totaling $140.1 million that the committee advanced at its Dec. 8 meeting. The panel also added $15.1 million to two utility projects after bids came in over budget and approved a new home for Varsity Hall.
The most dramatic proposal calls for a new, $91 million Center for the Arts at the intersection of Emmet Street, Ivy Road and University Avenue, on the current site of the Best Western Cavalier Inn, which will be demolished. As conceived, the new L-shaped complex will house two major programs — the University Art Museum and a performance center — linked by a common entry space.
Coupled with the razing of three University-owned buildings across Emmet Street to craft a park-like setting, the project promises to “create a new sense of place and arrival,” for the University and the city, University Architect David J. Neuman told the committee.
The location also will make the arts more accessible to a wider audience, on Grounds and in the community.
The state-of-the-art museum will support the highest level of collections care and presentation, enabling the museum to host nationally touring exhibitions and display a larger percentage of its 10,000-object collection than is now possible at the Bayly building. A sculpture garden will take advantage of natural features in the adjacent wetland landscape, restored during the construction of the Emmet/Ivy garage. Additional classroom, studio, technology and volunteer space will allow the art museum to expand its educational and outreach programs.
The performance center will house a 1,600-seat concert hall — more than twice Old Cabell Hall’s capacity — making it possible to present touring theater shows, dance companies, a major guest-artist series and other performances — including events by artists-in-residence — that will enhance the project’s educational mission.
The center’s size will complement other local performance venues, Neuman told committee members. Asked specifically about competing with downtown Charlottesville’s newly restored, 1,100-seat Paramount Theater, Neuman said the size of U.Va.’s center puts it in a “different market.” What was he asked about it?. The facility also will contain two smaller and more flexible performance spaces, plus rehearsal and storage facilities for the University’s new marching and concert bands.
The art museum and the performance center will share public areas and support facilities, increasing efficiency and reducing construction and operating costs. These measures will produce an estimated savings of $14 million in construction costs alone. In addition to a central lobby, the shared amenities may include a café for light meals, dinners and special events; a shop that will carry books and other items related to the arts; and related terraces, loading and storage areas.
Plans call for extensive site improvements and landscaping on the northeast quadrant of the intersection. After the existing structures on Emmet Street are razed, an all-weather intramural playing surface will be installed on Carr’s Hill Field.
To bring the concept to reality, there will be a two-stage design competition. From initial submissions by design teams who recently have built both museums and performing arts facilities, the University will select three or four finalists to produce initial concepts for the project.
This competition will end by summer 2005.
Once work begins, the final design and construction of the Center for the Arts is expected to take five years, with a target completion date of year-end 2010.
The Center for the Arts project, which encompasses more than 127,000 gross square feet, will be financed with private support. In April 2003, Carl and Hunter Smith of Charlottesville made a $22 million challenge gift for the Center for the Arts and also provided a gift to create the marching band.
More Room to Park
A few blocks to the east, along West Main Street, the committee approved in concept the construction of a new 900- to 1,200-space parking facility, to be located on the current site of a parking lot between the Blake Center and Northern Exposure restaurant.
Preliminary site plans show the Health System North Parking Garage to be set back 62 feet from West Main Street, with the first floor housing retail space. The section of the structure facing West Main will be four stories high, with rear portions rising to seven stories — offering commanding views of the city and overlooking the Medical Center. The top floor could be used for office space, Neuman said.
The $21.6 million structure, to be financed through bonds, is needed to replace a 330-space parking facility located directly across from the Primary Care Center that will be demolished to make way for the planned outpatient Cancer Center, and to serve the planned Children’s Hospital. Completion is expected in 2006.
The primary access to the parking facility will be from 11th Street, with additional limited access from Jefferson Park Avenue through the Blake Center parking area. An elevated walkway will link the new garage to the Medical Center.
City officials have seen the plan and offered their support, Neuman said.
The Buildings and Grounds Committee also approved a much smaller parking structure near the Culbreth Theatre building to serve the Arts Grounds. The 400-space, $8 million facility — also financed through bonds — will be built on sloping land between Culbreth Drive and the railroad tracks.
The garage will replace approximately 100 spaces of surface parking that will be consumed by Ruffin Hall, the planned new studio art building, and will help meet demand for parking to serve Central Grounds.
Construction could begin in 2005 and be completed by 2007. The Venable Neighborhood Association is “quite enthusiastic” about the plans, Neuman said.
Nursing School to Expand
The School of Nursing will expand under another project approved by the committee. With an addition to McLeod Hall deemed unfeasible, the architect’s office chose to build a new, 30,000-sqaure-foot structure across 15th Street.
The project, expected to carry a $12 million price tag — toward which $10 million is already pledged — is meant to relieve “severe overcrowding” in the Nursing School and allow it to boost its faculty and enrollment in the face of a nationwide nursing shortage.
However, “this building isn’t going to by itself complete all of the needs of the School of Nursing over the next 10 or 15 years,” Neuman cautioned.
The site of the Nursing School expansion had been slated to become the new home of Varsity Hall, a historic building the University opted to move — rather than remove — in order to make room for the Commerce School’s new home behind Rouss Hall.
That lot, however, was nearly a quarter-mile away from Varsity Hall’s current site, and the move faced many major logistical hurdles.
Instead, the committee approved a much shorter, $6 million move: approximately 185 feet downhill to Hospital Drive, where it will soon be planted. That will spell an end to through traffic on Hospital Drive, which will end with cul-de-sacs on either side of Varsity Hall.
The decision concludes eight months of head-scratching since the Board of Visitors elected to preserve Varsity Hall. “The reason why I didn’t think of this eight months ago, I don’t know,” Neuman said. “I wish I would have.”
Upgrading Infrastructure & Approving U.Va-Wise Project
Finally, the committee also recommended increasing the budgets of two utility projects after initial construction bids all came in too high, partly due to spiking prices for steel and concrete. The University will seek additional funds from the state to cover some of the overages.
The committee added $14.2 million to a planned environmental compliance upgrade to the University’s main heating plant, bringing the project total to $66 million; and $900,000 to the Campbell Hall chiller plant project, bringing the total cost to $3.2 million.
The committee also approved a $7.5 million renovation of, and addition to, the drama building at U.Va.’s College at Wise.