University Hall Enters Its Final 24 Hours

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University Hall
University Hall ~ file photo

Virginia fans that tune into the implosion of University Hall, the home of UVA basketball and more for more than 40 years, won’t spot any ACME rockets or Wile E. Coyote on Saturday morning. There’s a wee bit more to the process than that, no matter how cunning the roadrunner’s old cartoon nemesis tried to be.

“Sometimes people think we just kind of go in and strap some dynamite on them like they do in the cartoons and the thing blows up,” Renascent President Joshua Campbell said. “But there’s a lot more science, a lot more engineering that goes into it than that.”

Renascent, a demolition expertise company with offices in Washington D.C. among other locations, took on the responsibility of removing University Hall and Onesty Hall as the first major step in the Virginia Athletics Master Plan. To remove the structures, as Campbell alluded, the company needed to study the target buildings as well as the surrounding area and then formulate a process to safely and efficiently take out two structures in the middle of the athletic complex.

Much of the resulting design proved to be a straight-forward plan. Bring in some heavy machinery and tear down the walls. Renascent leveled Onesty Hall in that manner earlier this spring. When it came to University Hall, however, the white dome that gave the building its signature clam-like look complicated matters. The dome roof sat on top of the walls through tension engineering, a design that eliminated obstructed sight lines originally but challenged the demolition plan.

That led to the decision on implosion.

“The building wasn’t so tall that we couldn’t reach it, it wasn’t so large that we didn’t have the excavators for doing it, but there was a portion of this structure that had been altered,” Campbell said. “At the top of a lot of dome structures, there’s what’s called a ring beam at the top of the structure and that’s a post tension structural element to the top of it that gives support to the actual dome itself. … The engineering and things we were doing at the time didn’t bring a lot of clarity as to bringing this structure down mechanically and thus was the reason we decided to bring this particular structure down with implosion.”

University Hall will be brought down with that implosion at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Preparations have been ongoing. Asbestos abatement was completed early in the process. The crews already removed all non-structural load-bearing walls on the interior and exterior. All that remains are essentially walls that look like ribs and the dome; wrapped around those final exterior pieces are a combination of chain link fence and geo-textile fabric that will help contain some of he flying debris and dust that will result from the implosion.

Workers also boarded up windows at the McCue Center and made other safety preparations around the area. UVA also has closed off traffic and public areas near University Hall and ask that anyone interested watch the implosion via a live video stream provided by the school.

Renascent created a charge pattern timed down to the millisecond to try to force the building to fall away from McCue and the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility toward the Copeley Road side of the complex. The idea there is to collapse the final remaining structural supports so the building falls down under its own weight. Before Saturday’s detonation, safety crews will also sweep through the building and surrounding areas to make sure no one is in the area.

“One of the things that we really had to take into account with this particular structure was the protection around the area,” Campbell said. “In this particular one, there was McCue on the back side that has an electrical transformer that’s very, very close to this structure, the McCue building itself that is close, and then all the practice facilities that are very close. The design of this implosion has really been done to help bring the structure away from those buildings as its imploded.”

Watch the entire media briefing with Campbell here:

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