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Next phase of Rotunda renovations commence

Next step involves more intensive space restrictions than those already in place

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The Rotunda renovations are proceeding on schedule, according to a presentation to members of the University community and Lawn residents Thursday evening.

Historic Preservation Project Manager James Zehmer said the next major upcoming project is replacing the Rotunda’s capitals. The new capitals were quarried from the Campanili Quarry in Carrara, Italy. A machine carves the capitals and a carver finishes the job by hand. Capitals one through four are done with five and six on the machine, and capital seven next in line, Zehmer said.

A conveyance and shoring system, made entirely of steel, will be built on the south side of the Rotunda. The capitals are “weight-bearing” and the steel will hold up the roof as the capitals are replaced.

Each capital weighs about 9,000 pounds, so a crane will be used to lift the capital onto a track built along the tops of the columns, and then the capital will be rolled into place.

The south side of the Rotunda will look completely closed by structural steel, which the audience was told would be erected in the next one to two months and would stay in place until April or May.

In the next few weeks, the construction fence will move out 30 feet on the Lawn to make room for equipment as preparations for the installations of the new capitals begin.

“We will install the new capitals in the first quarter of next year, in February or March,” Zehmer said.

Over the summer, the Alexander Galt statue of Thomas Jefferson was moved out of the Rotunda to the Special Collections Library. Work also transpired inside the Rotunda as the construction team prepares to “dig down,” Zehmer said.

The addition of an elevator shaft in the building and a mechanical vault built underneath the East corridor require digging “another 20 feet under the structure in some spots,” Zehmer said. He said the process is “tricky” because the Rotunda has none of the foundations of a modern building, only bricks laid on clay.

Before the underground dig can begin, the construction team must complete an underpinning process. All of the underpinning — digging underneath the structure to reinforce the lackluster foundation, must be done by hand,.

“The underpinning is probably one of the riskiest pieces of this project,” Zehmer said. “I think that’s where we were a little bit nervous. It has to be done really methodically and carefully. … It’s not something you can rush. … We’ve got ropes and pulleys and five gallon buckets getting the dirt out.”

For 2015 graduation, “It will look like it’s being worked on,” Zehmer said. “We are not hiding the fact that it’s under construction.”

Zehmer says the construction, “a once-in-a-lifetime-project,” is history in the making.

“You all are going to be the first class to graduate with the new capitals,” he said. “You’ve got a front seat to history going on.”


Published September 5, 2014 in News







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