- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - About six months into a two-year renovation project of the University of Virginia’s iconic Rotunda, engineers say everything is on schedule.

Crews recently installed a system of 130 prismatic targets around the construction site, where the 188-year-old structure is fenced off and covered in scaffolding. Laser beams hit the targets 24 hours a day, ensuring the historic building doesn’t move during the extensive renovation.

“It has very low tolerance and can tell us when a building is moving,” said Brian Hogg, senior preservation planner in the university’s Office of the Architect. “It alerts us to anything that’s out of the ordinary.”

The project will update the Rotunda’s safety systems and electronics and add more common space. The Dome Room will be equipped with a shade for the oculus and acoustic plaster that will allow it to host audio and visual presentations during the day.

Crews will add a new mechanical room underneath the East Garden, as well as preparation space for caterers. Planners said they hope new restrooms and elevators will make the Rotunda more inviting and accessible.

Bringing more students into the Rotunda daily is one of the goals of the project, said James Zehmer, the university’s historic preservation project manager. When the project is done, the Rotunda will have more space for studying and classroom instruction, he said.

“A lot of students felt like it was just a museum,” Zehmer said, pointing out that the building originally was the university’s library. “So I think it’s a culture change we’re trying to bring about by encouraging extra use.”

A fire in 1895 destroyed much of the interior and many of the repairs weren’t faithful to the original design. Subsequent renovations in the 1970s altered it even further.

As part of the renovation, the university has commissioned an Italian firm to fabricate new marble capitals - load-bearing structures at the top of each pillar - faithful to Jefferson’s design. The old capitals were failing, said Matthew Kelly, a spokesman for the university.

Hogg said replacement of the capitals will begin in January.

The project is the second phase of a $50 million renovation that planners say the Rotunda desperately needs. Prior to replacement of the roof last year, the building was suffering leaks. And the fire safety systems were outdated.

“The building really hadn’t had any major work in 40 years,” he said. “The modern technology had been kind of Band-aided in.”

But Zehmer said the project also will make the Rotunda - nearing its 200th birthday - better than it has ever been.

“When you say ‘historic preservation,’ everyone thinks about the past, but it’s really about the future,” Zehmer said. “It’s our charge to hand it down to the next generation better than we found it.”

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Information from: The Daily Progress, https://www.dailyprogress.com

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