Tunnel vision? Terrace plan would deep-six JPA

The view across Jefferson Park Avenue from UVA's New Cabell Hall is hardly postcard quality. A cluster of scraggly trees does little to soften the 250-space parking lot whose degrading asphalt grows closer to gravel by the day, and the infamous carry-your-own-flag crosswalk that people use to cross JPA has nearly claimed the lives of several pedestrians in recent months. Not much of a sight, to be sure.

University Architect Samuel A. "Pete" Anderson III, however, looks across Jefferson Park Avenue and sees UVA's future, a future which could include a buried Jefferson Park Avenue.

As reported by the Hook a year ago, that parking lot, fondly known to the University community as "B1," will one day be home to a number of new academic buildings designed by the New York-based Polshek Partnership. New Cabell Hall, home to UVA's College of Arts and Sciences, is slated for demolition, and the entire South Lawn area will be renovated to create connections to the new structures.

Most students and faculty agree that it's time for New Cabell to go.

"This is the most important architectural project for the University since Stanford White designed the original South Lawn," says Anderson. "It's a very major seam."

The excitement over the project has become palpable now that the architects have returned with a series of preliminary site plans. These early concept drawings show a set of connected pavilions along one side of an open, park-like space that continues the axis of Jefferson's original Lawn at a slight angle ("a half-Lawn, in effect," says Anderson).

A fresh building on New Cabell's footprint will create a transition from the south terrace of Jefferson's Lawn to a series of common spaces leading students across JPA.

"Polshek has achieved a complete and elegant integration of new and old," says Joseph Grasso, UVA's Associate Dean for Planning and Operations. "He's paid a great deal of attention to Jeffersonian concepts."

Polshek has also devised some schemes that Jefferson would never have dreamed possible. While most of the site concepts show relatively standard pedestrian bridges over JPA, one plan stands out.

It depicts a planted terrace, dozens of feet wide, spanning a tunneled road to extend the South Lawn unbroken to the new buildings.

"We've shown the project to the City and area neighborhood associations," says Anderson, "and most prefer the wide bridge and seamless ground."

Grasso concurs. "People are pretty excited about the idea of a terrace across JPA."

While digging a deeper road and putting a park on top of it may seem like brave and innovative gestures, they're not without precedent in Virginia. There's a park over the Downtown Expressway in Richmond near the Federal Reserve, and even Charlottesville knows how to lower some roads.

"Look at 250," observes Craig Barton, director of UVA's American Urbanism program. "It's not hard to see that the road isn't running at the original grade."

Elizabeth Kutchai, President of the Jefferson Park Avenue Neighborhood Association, attended one of the meetings where the proposals were presented.

"Of course, people weren't terribly excited about the idea of tunneling Jefferson Park Avenue down low," says Kutchai. "It would necessitate closing the entrance to Oakhurst Circle some of my neighbors were absolutely horrified."

Kutchai also wonders where the 260-some permit holders for the B1 lot will park during construction and beyond.

"We've been faced with this kind of displacement before," says Becca White, UVA's Director of Parking and Transportation. "We'll give permit holders options in nearby lots, and once the new lots are built, we'll invite them back."

While White says it's still too early to tell how many parking spaces will be restored after construction is complete, she's sure about one thing: The terrace plan is "breathtaking."

The big question remains: Is the terrace bridge in or out? Right now, it seems that the future of the project depends on whether Polshek's drawings excite potential donors enough to spark the necessary flow of dollars.

Until that time, "We'll be catching our breath," says Anderson, adding that the wide terrace spanning JPA will cost around $20 million.

Grasso is upbeat about UVA's ability to find the cash. "We're going after a variety of financial sources, public and private," he says. "The terrace is expensive, but it's critical to bringing together both sides of JPA."

Neighborhood leader Kutchai disagrees.

"I don't think there's any chance in the world that [the terrace] could happen it's just too expensive," she says. "It's not even in the cards as far as I'm concerned."

Grasso says that across the country it's liberal arts buildings that are oftentimes the last to be renovated. He hopes that won't happen here. Once funds have been gathered, schematic design will take roughly 18 months. Construction of the trans-JPA segment of the project is expected to take another two and a half years.

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