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President Sullivan on the Rotunda Repairs

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dear Members of the University Community:

All of us in the University community — students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents — understand the significance of the Rotunda as the symbolic heart of our University. In this message, I want to explain some of the difficult tasks that lie ahead for us as we seek to preserve our Jeffersonian architectural heritage for future generations. This message supersedes any previous messages, and I am sorry for the confusion and lack of clarity that have clouded the issues to date. I can promise you that in the future we will be proactive in our communications with the community. I appreciate the thoughtful and constructive engagement of students, alumni, and others who so deeply care about this institution.

The University has just begun construction planning for the repair of the Rotunda roof as one in many phases of restoration efforts in the Academical Village. In June 2010, about two months before I took office, I became aware of the poor condition of the Rotunda, including its leaking roof. Architects, conservators, and other historic building experts who have meticulously examined the Rotunda report serious deterioration and roof leaks that threaten the building's structural integrity. In my first talk with students, and in many subsequent talks both on and off Grounds, I made clear that the restoration of the Rotunda is a priority. In the last legislative session I worked hard to persuade state authorities to help us fix the roof, because water is damaging the interior of the building. I am grateful to the Governor and to the General Assembly for providing us with half of the funding we needed to repair the roof.

At the November 2011 meeting of the Board of Visitors, we discussed the status of this work to raise awareness in advance of construction planning. Members of the Board shared their own concerns about the preliminary timetable for repairs, about the future of the trees, and about the possible impact that this work could have on Finals Weekends in 2012 and 2013. The first construction planning meetings will occur shortly, and planning efforts will continue into the coming calendar year. Let me reassure you that we are still in the throes of working out the timing of construction work in an effort to minimize disruption to the daily lives of our students, staff, and faculty -- and to address concerns that have been raised about Finals Weekends.

Some of you also have raised concerns about the recommendation to remove the generations-old magnolia trees that flank the Rotunda. The Board members were informed that the magnolias are at the end of their projected lifespan and were planted too close to the building. Arborists -- our own as well as outside experts -- believe that the repair work on the Rotunda will only exacerbate the trees' already fragile state. These are matters that we must consider further.

In the next few months we will learn more and communicate to ensure that the community remains informed and engaged. We will continue to include expert advice at appropriate stages in our planning to better inform our decisions.

The work needed to preserve this great building is complex. With the good will of all, we will preserve the Rotunda and enable future generations to value and celebrate it.

Very truly yours,
Teresa A. Sullivan