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November 18, 2011

University, city, county share plans for major construction projects

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DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, November 18, 2011

Representatives from Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia presented updates on their planned and recently completed capital construction projects before a joint planning council on Thursday.

20111117-PACCNoticeable at the Planning and Coordination Council meeting was the contrast between the scale and ambition of a university angling to become “the premier undergraduate experience of the Americas” and those of the county government, which has had to cut back construction plans due to ongoing revenue shortfalls.

“We really have almost a maintenance-only budget right now going forward,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.

Which is not to say that there are not projects being completed by each entity. The county highlighted it had just opened a newly improved Jarman’s Gap Road in Crozet. Meanwhile today UVa plans to hold a ribbon-cutting at its technology and engineering-focused Rice Hall today and the city will conduct a groundbreaking ceremony for the Fontaine Fire Station.

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The university is primarily pursuing infill development within the current grounds, but is still aggressively expanding capacity. This is largely due to an agreement with the state government to increase undergraduate enrollment by 1,400 students by 2018, which is in addition to an increase of 271 outstanding from a previous plan.

“It’s more renovation and repurposing, and less new [construction], but because of the agreement with the governor and legislature, and the 1,671 [new undergraduates], we have to have the space,” said David Neuman, the university architect.

The focus on density can be seen in the university’s partially completed plans for six new five- to six-story dormitories, primarily along Alderman Road. While an even larger number of old dorms is being eliminated, the new buildings’ greater height means a net addition of approximately 500 new student beds.

UVa also has plans to expand artistic endeavors near the School of Architecture and Drama Department. The “Arts Grounds” will include a new theatre featuring a thrust stage and fully accessible green roof, which will join the recently completed band building.

20111117-UVA-fieldhouseOn North Grounds, the university plans to improve its varsity and recreational athletic facilities. A new track and field facility is already in-progress. A $12 million indoor fieldhouse is planned for completion by 2013 adjacent to the University Hall Turf Field. A new swimming pool is also planned for the North Grounds Recreational Center.

The university will also start renovations and repairs to the Rotunda’s roof on The Lawn. The plans have been criticized by students for removing large magnolia trees and possibly affecting commencement ceremonies, but Neuman said that the recently announced plans were preliminary.

“This is a critical project and we want to be very thoughtful about it,” said Neuman in an interview. “Nothing is set in stone yet.”

Construction projects by the city have been literally big, with a turf football field that manufacturers said was the biggest single high school field in the Southeast as well as a 1.5 mile stream restoration of Meadow Creek managed by the Nature Conservancy.

“This is the biggest stream restoration that we’re aware of east of the Mississippi,” said Judy Mueller, city director of public works. “We’ll probably win a few awards out of this one.”

County supervisors said that shortness of funds has forced Albemarle to delay several projects that otherwise would have been undertaken, with Rooker citing the Ivy Fire Station, which was pushed back because of the added operational costs it would bring.

Trevor Henry, the county’s manager of facilities development, said that the long-awaited Crozet Library was nearly ready to go out to bid, and that the building’s parking lot was already completed. However, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said progress on the library was contingent on a change to Albemarle’s tax revenues.

“[O]ur current tax rate … is in effect a tax cut because a lot of property values have gone down,” said Mallek, adding that moving to an equalized tax rate would have the effect of making local revenues less sensitive to variations in housing prices. “Without an equalized tax rate, we can’t take on new projects.”

 

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