Going south: UVA expansion gears up

UVA continues to gobble real estate around Jefferson Park Avenue for its long-awaited South Lawn expansion, most recently a $5.25 million purchase of four apartment complexes on and around Brandon Avenue.

But it's been three years since UVA hired the Polshek Partnership, an award-winning New York architecture firm, to design the new South Lawn. Is construction ever going to start?

"We should break ground in the spring or summer of 2006," says Adam Daniel, UVA's associate dean for administration and planning. He says the $125 million project will likely take at least five years to finish.

Daniel says the two-phase Polshek plans are still being "vetted" by university officials, a process he predicts will last until December 2005.

The first phase involves constructing a new 150,000 square-foot building on the "B-1" parking lot across JPA that will be linked to the main grounds with a novel urban amenity: a "pedestrian terrace."

Essentially a super-wide pedestrian bridge, the terrace will tunnel JPA into an underpass while creating a landscaped connector between the new buildings and the historic Jeffersonian Lawn (alleviating the need for pedestrians to wave flags to keep from being run over).

But it's phase two of the project that has received more attention, thanks to the planned demolition of New Cabell Hall.

Built in the mid-'50s and designed by the Eggers and Higgins architecture firm, who also designed the Newcomb Hall student center and the McCormick Road residence halls, New Cabell has never been a favorite of students or architecture critics.

"Grossly insensitive," is how Richard Guy Wilson describes the hulking 160,000-square-foot structure in his introduction to The Campus Guide of the University of Virginia.

Among its most scorned features: labyrinthine handicapped access, dysfunctional window air conditioning units, and desks that former Hook writer and UVA student James Graham called "so uncomfortable you can't even sneak a nap."

Even former Architect for the University, Samuel "Pete" Anderson, who'd once called for New Cabell to be saved, eventually acknowledged that the potential of the site without New Cabell was "quite exciting."

In its place, Polshek has designed a 110,000 square-foot building that will open up the south end of the Lawn, and– for the first time in 50 years– reveal the curved rear of Old Cabell. Yowza!

While the plans may be exciting, they are hardly imminent– Daniel says phase one will last about three years, making 2009 the earliest date the wrecking ball might swing down on New Cabell.

Eugene Foster isn't disappointed by the construction delay. As residents of the Oakhurst-Gildersleeve neighborhood that abuts the B-1 lot, he and his neighbors are concerned about the effect such extensive construction will have on their quality of life.

"There's going to be noise and dust and stuff like that," he says. People who have lived near other big construction projects have warned him about unexpected nuisances.

"The thing that annoyed them the most was the back-up beeping of all the trucks," he says. "That's something you can't do anything about."

Fortunately, says Foster, UVA's new Architect for the University, David Neuman, has worked closely with the neighborhood.

"He's been very, very open; he's met with us all the time," says Foster. "He listens, seems smart, and we hope that it will work out."