University of Mary Washington officials have closed the Eagle’s Nest deck indefinitely due to fire safety and structural concerns, leaving students with few outside dining options.
General manager of Dining Services, John Dering says some students have started eating their meals in the Campus Center hallways, while others are sitting outside at the 14 tables recently installed in the Woodard Center Plaza.
Junior Emma Clarkson hiked over to Simpson Library recently to eat her lunch on a frayed bench bolted to the brick walkway.
“It sucks eating on benches,” she said. “I would normally be eating on the deck on a day like this.”
College officials have allocated $400,000 for a new deck, and say they hope to begin construction in the spring.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office ordered the school to close the deck in August. According to the construction inspection report from the Fire Marshal, the deck only had one emergency exit, and that one exit led back into the dining area of the Eagle’s Nest.
Timothy Ritchey, the Fire Protection Engineer in charge of the inspection, ordered the school to correct the exit problem, and also directed the University to investigate the structural capacity of the deck.
UMW discovered that the occupant load—the weight of people the structure can hold—had been constructed according to residential code requirements, and so failed to meet the more rigorous standards required for commercial use.
According to John Wiltenmuth, associate vice president of Facilities Services, the school had been allowing twice as many people to occupy the deck than the state code allows for a residential structure.
Although the deck failed to meet state requirements, it was never structurally unsafe in the past, according to school officials.
“Nothing changed with the structural integrity of the deck since it was built,” said Ruth Lovelace, compliance manager from the UMW Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
“It has never, not now nor ever, been unsafe,” she said.
School officials said they don’t know why the 22-year-old deck was built to meet residential and not commercial standards.
“It’s a mystery question,” said Wiltenmuth. “It probably was just an error or accident. The state had different standards back then.”
No one currently employed in Facilities Services held a supervisory position when the deck was initially constructed.
Richard Pearce, associate vice president for Business and Finance, said the UMW Board of Visitors recently approved $400,000 to remove, replace, and enlarge the deck. That project is currently in the design phase. Preliminary plans call for the deck to connect to both the Eagle’s Nest and to Campus Walk between the Woodard Plaza and the library.
The Eagle’s Nest’s business has not been hurt by the closure of the deck, according to Dering, the general manager.
“But I did see that kids were eating in the [Woodard Campus Center] hallways,” he said. “I knew it was an inconvenience for the students, not having the deck. That’s why we bought the furniture out front.”