Students have always had to sacrifice some creature comforts for the honor of living on the Lawn, and this year a long-standing tradition was sacrificed as well in the interest of safety.
Cracks in many flues and chimneys spurred University officials to temporarily prohibit residents of Lawn and range rooms from using their fireplaces.
Though rooms are equipped with fire and smoke detectors, “there is no fire suppression in the rooms, [so] this is a huge concern,” says University spokesperson Carol Wood.
A consulting firm found that nearly all of the 106 chimneys it examined on the Lawn and range were compromised. The cracks and larger openings could allow a chimney fire to spread quickly into the roofs of the Academical Village, according to officials in Facilities Management. Because central heat was added in the early 20th century, using fireplaces is largely symbolic, one of many UVA traditions.
“In Corks & Curls, the student yearbook, there were several drawings of students reading by the fireplace, and there are many references to Edgar Allan Poe, who lived on the range, breaking up his furniture and burning it in his fireplace,” says Alexander “Sandy” Gilliam (Col ‘55), the University’s protocol and history officer and a former Lawn resident.
The ban sparked immediate controversy.
“I was very disappointed. It was something I was really looking forward to using,” fourth-year Matt Cofer (Col ‘12), a Lawn resident, told the Washington Post.
“Mr. Jefferson would be livid if this were to happen to his Academical Village,” said Philip Chen (Engr ‘68), a former Lawn resident.
A campaign to pay for repairs and safety upgrades, estimated to cost $3.7 million for all 106 chimneys and installation of a fire-suppression system, was launched in October. A former Lawn resident contributed the first major gift of $100,000 to the fund, called “Keep the Fires Burning,” and the UVA Alumni Association has started a fund-raising challenge, matching donations dollar for dollar up to $1 million. A website, keepthefiresburning.org, has been created in support of the cause.