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Coronavirus, operational changes delay opening of Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

With the original unveiling canceled, those in charge of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers are now unsure of when its dedication will occur

The memorial has been highly anticipated by the University community since the project officially began in December 2018.
The memorial has been highly anticipated by the University community since the project officially began in December 2018.

The University’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers was scheduled for a public dedication on April 11, but the implications of COVID-19 have led to a great deal of obstacles and uncertainty surrounding its completion. As a result, construction is slated to be completed at the end of April, and the public dedication is postponed indefinitely.

The memorial has been highly anticipated by the University community since the project officially began in December 2018. Planning and research dedicated to finding the descendants of the enslaved laborers who built the University started as early as 2010. The President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, created in 2013, worked alongside construction teams to create a memorial that addresses the University’s history of slavery and is accessible to the community.

According to Sarita M. Herman, the Historic Preservation Project Manager for Capital Construction and Renovations, the University, the architects and the contractor knew how unique this project would be. Therefore, the construction took longer than the year-long process that was originally anticipated because quality was prioritized over deadlines. 

“Ultimately, the project did take longer to construct than we had originally thought, because of the incredibly intricate process of perfecting the stone elements of the Memorial, and also because the schedule was highly impacted by weather, since it’s all outdoors and many of the construction activities rely on dry conditions,” Herman said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Herman noted that the construction team certainly met difficult expectations and upheld the design intent of the workers and community members who contributed to the project.

As a result of University operational adjustments and precautionary measures due to the coronavirus outbreak, work on the memorial has experienced delays. While they have still been able to make progress on the project, workers and construction teams have had to implement several safety provisions on the job. Social distancing and hand washing stations have been practiced on site. 

Herman noted that the memorial was nearing completion before the changes in operational status within the University. However, even with these precautions taken, the project has still been impacted by the virus. The memorial was set to be finished a couple of weeks ago, prior to the original public dedication and speeches from members of the Commission scheduled for April 11. 

The general contractor for the memorial, Team Henry Enterprises, had a couple of its subcontractors affected by coronavirus. Herman wrote about one instance in which a sub-contractor had to be replaced, and another in which a subcontractor had to test all of their employees for the virus. These caused delays in construction.

As well as this, the design teams have been majorly impacted, according to Herman. The lead for the design team, Höweler + Yoon Architecture, is based in Boston, and other design team members are located all over the country and Canada. These members were unable to travel to Charlottesville to close out the project as planned.

“Reviews are being conducted using video calls, which is really challenging,” Herman wrote. “As long as we don’t have additional unexpected COVID-19 impacts, construction will be completed in April.” 

Plans for a future dedication are underway, though nothing is currently finalized due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation. The University’s Office of Major Events and the Memorial Community Engagement Committee will likely reschedule the dedication when normal operations resume.

“At this point, nothing is set in stone and we have to remain flexible with so many unknowns right now,” Herman said. “We want to include as much of the University and descendant communities as possible, so we do need travel and gathering restrictions to be lifted and our students and faculty to be back on Grounds.”

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