The second and final phase of the Rotunda restoration will begin immediately the day after the Class of 2014’s graduation in May. The project is planned to take two years to complete, and includes an eight foot green fence blocking off access to the Rotunda, both porticos, and certain areas surrounding the Rotunda. The bronze Thomas Jefferson statue on the north side of the Rotunda will be blocked off for the first part of the second phase, but will eventually be accessible during the renovations.
The Class of 2015 will not be able to proceed from the Rotunda during their Final Exercises, however the current copper dome should be painted white in time for the 2015 graduation. The renovation aims to be completed by April 2016, just in time for the Class of 2016 Final Exercises. If for whatever reason the construction takes longer than planned, the Class of 2016 will not be able to proceed from the Rotunda for graduation.
The Rotunda renovations are necessary to modernize the historic building, and none of the $42.5 million spent on the second phase came from student tuition. The University hopes to draw more students to utilize the Rotunda as a place of learning, rather than as a mere aesthetic icon. After the renovations, student classes and seminars are planned to be offered in the Rotunda, as Thomas Jefferson originally envisioned. Modernizations include a mechanical room built under the East Courtyard that will provide heating, air conditioning, ventilation and fire alarm systems, and a separate catering room. Renovations also include an elevator that will provide easy access to the main lobbies and first two floors (especially helpful for the wait staff), as well as:
- Complete structural and infrastructural renovation
Increased classroom, study, lecture and ceremonial use
Replacement of the marble column capitals
Repair of the terraces and marble stairs
Historic landscapes around the Rotunda
New visitor interpretive center
Renovation of the Dome Room
The new marble column capitals will finally replace the currently cracked capitals enclosed in black netting. At around $2 million each, they will be hand crafted from Italian marble in Italy and shipped across seas to the University. The Italian marble was extracted from an area near to where Jefferson’s original capital marble was from. Architecture students studying abroad in Italy over the summer will be able to document the creation of the capitals.
Despite 1,800 students signing a petition to preserve the magnolia trees adjacent to the Rotunda, the decades-old magnolia trees have already been removed to allow room for construction and will not be replanted in their former location. As a gesture to the old trees, new magnolias will be planted on Carr’s Hill. The second phase includes relandscaping the area surrounding the Rotunda to match Jefferson’s original vision.
The Class of 2015, and potentially the Class of 2016, will be the most disrupted by the renovations. Many students are upset by the news and feel that their college experience is being hindered by such renovations – especially those unable to graduate with the Rotunda. Third Year Council is currently in the process of creating a committee to deal with issues resulting from the construction, such as the location of the graduation ceremony and general class concern.