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Curry School undergoing renovations, eyes space for expansion

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Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012 6:29 pm | Updated: 3:40 pm, Tue Jan 22, 2013.

Officials at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education are planning for the upcoming renovation of Ruffner Hall. That, coupled with the school’s expanding footprint, means that they expect to need thousands of extra square feet in the years to come.

Curry already rents about 15,000 square feet of off-Grounds space, principally for its sponsored-research program, which is now at more than $15 million annually. The government, particularly at the federal level, funds much of the research, but there is also money from philanthropists, corporations and foundations involved.

“We have to have space to do it,” said Mark C. Hampton, senior associate dean for strategy and planning at Curry.

Generally, for Curry, research space just means offices with Internet connections, rather than the lab space often required by those in the hard sciences.

In addition, officials are getting ready to close Ruffner for renovations, which will mean additional demand for space, at least temporarily.

“Our goal is ultimately to find space on Grounds so that we can bring all those people back,” Hampton said.

Having researchers tucked away can, in some ways, separate them from the broader Curry community. Many of the researchers teach classes, but not all of them do. Research teams are often headed by faculty who are expected to teach, but can also have other people, such as post-doctoral fellows or faculty members whose explicit purpose at UVa is research, conducting the science.

“Those people tend not to be in the classroom, but they do tend to be very good mentors for graduate students,” Hampton said.

The renovation is still in the planning process, so not all the attendant details have been settled. Officials hope to empty Ruffner this fall, allowing renovations to start sometime around the new year.

The renovations are aimed at updating major mechanical systems in the building and removing asbestos. (The building was constructed in the “heyday” of asbestos and largely relies on it for fire suppression, Hampton said.) Along the way, officials are hoping to open some space up and create a more livable building, Hampton said.

The building was constructed in the early 1970s and has never had a major renovation.

“It’s had all sorts of spot fixes to things,” Hampton said.

There have been problems with the roof, the elevator and drainage at the main entrance.

Officials hope the work will take about 18 months, allowing them to move people back into the building in the fall of 2014.

The costs of renovations for the 84,000-square-foot building will be about $20 million, Hampton said. It’s certainly far cheaper than building a new facility, he said.

“It’s not the most attractive building on Grounds, but it is part of UVa’s history, and it’s been a very serviceable building for many years,” he said.

During the work, students and faculty will be heading to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Research and administrative functions housed in the building will be located off-Grounds.

Officials had initially hoped to begin construction when Bavaro Hall, which also houses some of the Curry School, was completed in 2010, but the poor economy led to plans getting pushed back.

By the time Ruffner comes back online, between growth in research and growth from a new kinesiology program, officials expect to need an extra 25,000 square feet, Hampton said.

Where exactly that will be remains unclear.

“We continue to work through these matters to find both short- and longer-term solutions to get Curry research back closer to, if not, on Grounds,” wrote Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Strine in an email that was released due to a Freedom of Information Act request related to another matter.