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Cover of Spring - Summer 2003 Issue

 

Rotunda Reopens

Shortly after the Great Fire of 2001, President Patricia
P. Cormier promised the alumni and campus community that "Ruffner Hall to be rebuilt and it will be rebuilt in the way in which it was designed. Like a Phoenix rising from
the ashes, Ruffner Hall and our beloved Rotunda
will live again."

Nearly four years to the day after Ruffner Hall was destroyed by fire, Longwood's signature building was rededicated in a ceremony April 23. The red brick, classical style Ruffner
replicates the university's most beloved building, which burned down the evening of April 24, 2001, while undergoing a
$12 million renovation. It was reconstructed based on the original details and drawings from the state archives under
the direction of Kuntz & Associates, Architects of Alexandria.
The 83,143-square foot building will house four academic departments and the offices of the vice president for academic affairs and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Rotunda Redidication Ceromony

The morning after the fire, Longwood President Patricia Cormier vowed to rebuild Ruffner Hall to its "original splendor." True to her word, Ruffner is virtually indistinguishable on the outside from the original building. The central Rotunda section is flanked by symmetrical wings and fronted by four Greek Ionic Erechtheum columns. A porch bordered with Tuscan Order columns extends across the front of the building, with a balustrade at the porch roof and main roof elevations. Also as before, a curved double stairway inside the Rotunda ascends to the second and third floors, from which visitors can again gaze down on the Joan of Arc sculpture known popularly as "Joanie on the Stony," which was been restored, given a new base and returned to its longtime
location in the center of the Rotunda.

"We've made a good effort to bring Ruffner Hall back to its historic appearance and design," says Fred Kuntz, principal of Kuntz & Associates. "Our design intent was focused on maintaining the size, shape and integrity of the original design."

Longwood President Patricia Cormier and Senator John H. Chichester
Longwood President Patricia Cormier shares ribbon cutting duties with Senator John H. Chichester (R-28), President pro tempore of the Virginia Senate.
Kuntz & Associates, which specializes in renovation, restoration and reconstruction, was directing the renovation at the time of the fire. "Fortunately, we had the opportunity to fully document the original building details during our design for the originally anticipated renovation project," Kuntz says. "While the design for the reconstruction was unique, and we had to 'go back to the drawing board' to accomplish the new design, we were able to draw on our reference background to recreate the original detailing and character."


There are now doors on the east and west sides of the front of the Rotunda where once there were windows. This also is in keeping with Ruffner being returned to its original design. "During our survey investigations prior to the renovation and fire, we found evidence of the 'toothed' in brick masonry infill in what had been the original door openings that were replaced by the windows," says Kuntz. "These original doors apparently provided access to the Rotunda from sides of the Colonnade as our new doors now do as well. The previous windows were obviously installed into the original door casings as was evidenced from the wood trim."

Class representatives cutting ribbon
Class representatives cutting ribbon.
For example, there are more than 80 doorknobs and coverplates (the latter are known as escutcheons) in the main section of Ruffner that were cast in bronze to match the design of the original Ruffner hardware. "The units are custom design castings unique to this facility," says Kuntz. "The doorknob has a rose and tulip pattern cast into the face of the knob, and the escutcheon has the same rose and tulip pattern cast around the perimeter. The escutcheon also has a scroll and fan petal design at both the top and the bottom."

Another faithful recreation is the slate sill piece in front of the door to the main entrance. The original gray slate, which had a smooth, saddle-shaped indentation from decades of use, was severely damaged in the fire and thus couldn't be used again. "A new slate sill was cut for the opening and was ground and routed to closely match the original wear profiles," Kuntz says.

Class representatives
Class representatives.
New features include the Cole Gallery (see story on p. 14) - a dramatic atrium-like skylight extending the length of the hallway betwixt Ruffner and Blackwell Halls (the latter, vacant since 2000, survived the fire), a reconstructed skylight system atop the Rotunda dome and a basement level, giving it four floors instead of three. The skylight system, originally part of the building, was rebuilt "to restore the design to its original intent," says Kuntz. The original Ruffner had a skylight about 15 feet above the interior lantern glass window.

"The skylight that was located on top of the dome, as best as we can determine, was apparently covered over after the 1920s so that it did not admit natural light into the Rotunda interior," says Kuntz. "It is quite possible that the unit was roofed over in an effort to eliminate leaks to the interior. In our conversations, we have not met anyone who can remember the skylight being operational."

Prior to the fire, all of the historic memorabilia from
Ruffner Hall had been removed for the renovation. This included the eight paintings on the interior of the Rotunda dome, done in 1905 (apparently when the Rotunda was added) by the Italian-born artist Eugene D. Monfalcone of Richmond, which delighted visitors for decades. These oil paintings on canvas - four oval-shaped portraits and four half moon-shaped allegorical lunettes - were restored by Page Conservation of Washington, D.C., beginning in 2001 and re-installed from August through October last year. In the studio cleaning process, old varnish, adhesive and years of grime and dirt were carefully removed from the canvas sections. After the paintings were re-installed with heat-activated adhesives, a varnish was applied in preparation for the in-painting process, where conservators paintstakingly filled in the losses and damages. After the original canvas paintings were re-installed, Warnock Studios, also of Washington, carefully recreated the decorative scrolls and lettering directly on the dome's new plaster.

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