Will you walk the Lawn?

University administrators meet with student leaders to discuss 'creative' solutions to Rotunda restrictions

The Rotunda, above, sits at the center of the University.

At a private meeting Monday afternoon, University administrators told several student leaders that the next phase of Rotunda renovations will impact Final Exercises for the Class of 2015 and potentially 2016.

Though graduating students receive their actual diplomas at separate ceremonies organized by their majors, Commencement annually takes place on the Lawn. Students gather on the north side of the Rotunda, process around the building, down its steps and south along the Lawn to attend the ceremony.

Dean of Students Allen Groves, Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Lampkin and Assoc. Dean of Students Francis Laushway told the student leaders that the next phase of Rotunda renovations — set to begin in May — will be extensive enough to disrupt this process, multiple attendees said.

University spokesperson McGregor McCance confirmed that construction on the Rotunda will impact Final Exercises in 2015 and potentially the following year as well.

“The bulk and the primary work for the second phase [of renovations] will begin right after this year’s Final Exercises in May,” McCance said. “It’s going to be a two-year project and the Rotunda will be a construction zone during that time.”

Saying the administration wanted the students involved in the conversation, Lampkin told the meeting attendees the class councils could find a way for the Lawn to still play a part in Final Exercises — just in a substantially different way.

“Lampkin reiterated it was up to students to figure out something, [keeping] in mind that a significant portion of the north side of the Lawn will be closed off — where students normally process and gather — so they’d have to get creative about what to do,” said one student leader who wished to remain anonymous.

But even after the renovations conclude after two years, administrators said the changes to Final Exercises might be made permanent due to capacity issues with the Lawn, according to several meeting attendees.

“The administrators said they were [also] dealing with a growing student population … and this might limit the family members students can invite — so that’s a problem in and of itself,” the student leader said. “Lampkin said hopefully what 2015 will come up with [to address the closed Rotunda and the capacity issue] will impact what students will do down the line.”

The meeting also addressed the renovations’ impact on student life at the University. Though the living capacity of the Lawn will not be affected, administrators wanted the student body to be able to begin thinking about how to handle impacts to Lawn-centric traditions, such as Lighting of the Lawn and Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn.

“The meeting was all about the fact that they wanted students to know [and] to be involved and [have] student opinion on everything — with not only [graduation] but opening Convocation, and Trick-or-Treating on Lawn — all things that will be affected,” the student leader said.

According to the “Saving the Rotunda” page of the Jefferson Grounds Initiative website, the restoration will cost $50.6 million, $26.8 million of which was provided by the state and the rest of which will come from a donation campaign. The two-year process will include “complete structural and infrastructural renovation; increased classroom, study, lecture and ceremonial use … repair of the terraces and marble stairs … [and] renovation of the Dome Room,” among other projects.

“As planned, the renovation will allow for the Rotunda to serve as not just a tourist attraction, but also as an extension of the Academical Village and a space for student learning, as was originally intended by Jefferson,” said another meeting attendee who wished to remain anonymous.

The University will hold a press conference Thursday morning covering the full details of Phase II of the Rotunda restoration beginning in May.

“We want to really kind of put the whole project in the big picture context for what it means to the University community [and] what it means to be a proper heritage site,” McCance said. “It’s a national landmark and as it’s been said back at the beginning of the campaign, the hope for the whole project is that the Rotunda’s going to be more accessible, more modern and more open to students, faculty and the community.”

Grace Hollis contributed with reporting to this story.

Published January 15, 2014 in FP test, News

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