BY ALEX BLEMISH
University of Mary Washington officials have decided to shorten the iconic boiler stack at the school’s heating plant to half of its current height of 170 feet. This means one of the last visible reminders of the old Mary Washington College– the white ‘MWC’ emblazoned on the stack– will soon be gone.
Officials say that the renovation, expected to cost nearly half a million dollars, is necessary due to safety concerns. Mortar joints holding the brick structure together have begun to deteriorate and officials are worried that bricks and other features of the stack could fall on passers-by.
Last winter, a small concrete cap came loose form the stack and fell. In December 2005, a steel band that helped hold the upper section of the stack in place broke and had to be replaced.
“It would be lethal if not taken care of,” said Central Heating Plant Director Jim Marcum.
Many alumni and community members are upset at the prospect of losing the stack, especially the white-brick ‘MWC.’ Heating Plant Operator Calvin Loving is one such community member.
“I don’t want it to come down.” Said Loving, a Fredericksburg native who has worked at the plant for 15 years. For him, the stack is a landmark, seen all the way to Stafford from Route 1.
Others share Loving’s sentiment. According to the plant operator, people have been coming to see the stack for one last time, sometimes as late as midnight.
In addition to late-night pilgrimages, letters sent to the editor of the Free Lance-Star have also given voice to the concerns of those against the shortening. A few people have even made accusations that the decision was made to disassociate the University from its former name.
“I find it hard to believe that Acting President Rick Hurley [has] been open to alumni groups and others about a casualty of the work on the smokestack ís ‘MWC’ logo,” wrote Eric Haas of Spotsylvania in the Aug. 29, 2007 issue of the Free Lance-Star.
The administration insists that the decision was made primarily for safety reasons.
Gerald Chimney Co. of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded the construction rights in August 2007. According to Associate Vice President for Business and Finance Rick Pearce, the budget projection for the entire project is $45,000.
Work on the stack was supposed to begin and end in September, but there has been an indefinite delay. The delay is a result of Gerald Chimney Co. failing to secure and deliver the materials needed for the project.
John Wiltenmuth, associate vice president of Facilities Services, is overseeing the entire process. Wiltenmuth declined to comment for this article, stating that he needed to focus on working with the contractors to fix the delay.
Marcum, when asked about the new proposed timeline, said that it depended entirely on the construction firm. Work is not expected to begin until spring of next year at the earliest.
When work on the boiler finally begins, there may be a rush to get a piece of UMW history.
“Everyone wants one of those white tiles,” said Loving.