Charlottesville Breaking News

Snuffed out? Fire ban puts a damper on UVA tradition

A tradition as old as the UVA Lawn itself was recently snuffed out, at least temporarily, as University officials announced last week that students living on the Lawn and the Ranges would no longer be able to use their fireplaces.

According to UVA maintenance director Michael Merriam, a consulting firm hired to inspect the 106 chimneys found that they were too unsafe to use. Fearful, perhaps, of a repeat of the 1895 fire that destroyed the Rotunda, and with none of the rooms equipped with sprinkler systems, Merriam says the decision was made to ban fires and seek proposals to repair the fireplaces and chimneys.

In addition to cracks and corrosion in the steel and concrete liners, Merriam says that inspectors found that mortar had fallen out of the chimneys, gaps had opened up in the fire walls of the hearths, and that dampers and flues were faulty. (The damage was detected before the recent earthquake.)

"At a minimum, the chimneys will have to be relined," says Merriam. "But in many cases the chimneys will have to be re-pointed, fireboxes will have to be resealed, and dampers will have to be fixed. It's an extensive amount of work."

Indeed, Merriam estimates that it will cost between $1-3 million to repair the chimneys, depending on the scope of the work. While he says that some proposals have already been received, there's been no decision made yet on what will be done– or whether students will ever be able to use the fir...

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Naked emperor? 'Glitchy system' triggers call for school leadership change

In the wake of the Hook's recent cover story Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle, which examined the County's purchase of a faulty student information system and revealed potential conflicts of interest between school administrators and Schoolnet, the company that supplied the software, school board members have been bombarded with complaints from angry parents.

"We need new leadership for our schools, and we need it now," writes Carmen Garcia, founder of CASE (Citizens of Albemarle Supporting Education), in an email to County School board chair Steve Koleszar. "I hope you'll wake from your peaceful slumber and realize that, as a friend of mine brilliantly reminded me, the emperor has no clothes."

Garcia, who founded her group of County school parents last year in response to the implementation of the controversial 4x4 class schedule, contends that the student information system debacle is another mistake by superintendent Pam Moran.

"We have tried to warn you and the public about the huge conflict of interest we perceived as Dr. Moran's image and words were used to advertise SchoolNet's products," Garcia writes. "Now that the trut...

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Bypass may reach above FSL, Roxie Daisy already opened, Adam!

The June 16 cover story, "Fast track: Western Bypass shifts into overdrive," asserted that the northern terminus would fall between Polo Grounds Road and Forest Lakes South. However, new renderings by Charlottesville Tomorrow suggest that while one piece of the terminus might fall in that zone, the two main lanes will make their connection to U.S. 29 north of the Forest Lakes South entrance.

The September 8 OnArchitecture story, "Mall kiosk surfaces, British Corner invasion, and is the Mall okay?," asserted that Roxie Daisy, a home furnishings store, would open at 101 East Water Street in the fall. The store actually opened on August 1.

The September 8 cover story,"9/11 reflections: 3,000 dead and freedom too," gave the wrong email address for the author, which is actually, and the table of contents referred to him as Andy Rhea, instead of his correct name, Adam Rhea.

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Green light: Why not sync every signal before Bypassing?

Can you imagine zipping up U.S. 29 north through green lights and reaching the airport in a matter of minutes, so efficiently that, wait, we don't need this new $436 million, forest-cutting, mountain-moving road that just been revealed to cost double earlier estimates?

Okay, maybe that's not in the wildest imagination of planners.

What is imaginable is that the 14 traffic lights that the Western 29 Bypass will avoid could be synchronized for just $42,000, according to UVA transportation engineer Byungkyu "Brian" Park. A man whose ideas and computer models have won him acclaim in national transportation journals, Park remains practically unknown in Charlottesville.

Yet, in a place that may soon hold the dubious distinction of building a bypass that doesn't actually bypass some of its key bottlenecks, shouldn't Charlottesville and Albemarle synchronize all their lights before embarking on a six-mile, VDOT-estimated  $400-plus-million project, a project so controversial that it's been stalled for 20 years, and whose most ardent supporters concede won't solve the congestion on U.S. 29 north?

"Typically, cities and state DOTs don't have enough money to do the timing," Park says helpfully. "They've got to do the potholes, too."

Park pegs the synchronization cost at just $3,000 per intersection, and that estimate includes going out to collect traffic counts at peak hours and setting up models.

"It's not like you're building a b...

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$499 question: Does Council candidate even live in the city?

At the Jefferson School groundbreaking September 14, the topic of conversation sometimes seemed to be less the milestone the historic school had achieved, but instead the former City Council candidate who allegedly suffered Charlottesville's only earthquake injury and who had just been outed for fabricating a claim that he co-owned Snap Fitness. A few blocks away that same morning, the Charlottesville Electoral Board was sending the campaign filings of James Robert Halfaday over to the commonwealth's attorney for possible prosecution.

The fitness center and earthquake questions may be the tip of iceberg. The Hook has discovered that people residing at his listed city address have no knowledge of his living there. Moreover, some of his 21 supposed financial supporters dispute his claim that they donated exactly $499 to his campaign.

"No way," says William Nowell, pastor at New Covenant Pentecostal Church, one of the alleged contributors. "I didn't even consider him as a candidate, and I know I wouldn't give him any money."

Nowell says he's concerned about having his name associated with Halfaday; his connection with the candidate, pastor Nowell says, consisted merely of his coming to the church a few times....

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