Jewish World Review Oct 10, 2011 / 12 Tishrei, 5772
Saving Thomas Jefferson''s chimneys
By Dale McFeatters
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Rooms on the Grounds at the University of Virginia are small -- 13' by 13' --furnished with only a sink, and with the bathrooms and showers accessible only by going outside. And they are set in the middle of the campus among where crowds of tourists -- "Mr. Jefferson's University" is a major draw as is nearby Monticello -- seem to have little reservation about "just taking a peek" in the door.
Nonetheless, obtaining one of those 54 rooms is a considerable honor, available only to seniors with top grades. One of principal attractions is that the rooms come with fireplaces and a periodically replenished pile of firewood. There's a lot to be said for a crackling fire on a chilly fall afternoon nestled among Virginia's brilliantly colored woods. Graduate students live in a mirror-image of the Lawn, known as the range.
Jefferson conceived of his "Academical Village" in 1800, and it was chartered in 1819, pioneering among American universities such disciplines as astronomy, engineering and philosophy. The heart of the University was the Rotunda, looking down a long mall with the students' rooms lining either side and interspersed with pavilions where the faculty would live and classes be taught. A large modern university has since grown up around Mr. Jefferson's vision, but the second president would immediately recognize the heart of the campus.
This year, for the first time, the university has banned fires in the fireplaces of the Lawn, citing crumbling mortar, damage to the chimney linings, the lack of a sprinkler system and the wooden roof and attic linking all the dorm rooms. Since the rooms open directly to the outside, there is probably little danger of losing a student to a chimney fire, but there is a real danger of losing an architectural and historic treasure, one, moreover, recognized by UNESCO.
The state of Virginia is in the hands of a Republican governor and legislature determined to cut the budget at every turn, and fixing the Lawn's chimneys will not come cheap -- $1 million to $3 million for the chimney work and considerably more for a sprinkler system.
The budget cutters have been entrusted with an important part of our history. Fix the chimneys. Some anachronisms are worth preserving. And if the price of academic excellence is a small pile of firewood, the state is getting away cheap.
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