VCUarts building reopens after COVID-19 investigation

The Fine Arts Building, recently renamed the Dr. Murry N. DePillars Building, hosts the departments of Craft and Material Studies, Painting and Printmaking, and Sculpture and Extended Media. The building is located at 1000 W. Broad St. in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Enza Marcy

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

The Fine Arts Building reopened Wednesday after a weeklong closure due to COVID-19 concerns. Students who work in the building’s art studios said the closure began with a short notice evacuation of students and employees. 

The location at 1000 W. Broad St. houses VCU’s departments of Craft and Material Studies, Kinetic Imaging, Painting and Printmaking, and Sculpture and Extended Media. It closed due to numerous unreported COVID-19 symptoms and positive test results, according to an email sent to students and employees on Friday. 

VCUarts Dean Carmenita Higginbotham said in the email that the building would be “closed indefinitely.” 

“Let me be clear,” Higginbotham said in the email, “It is imperative that students, faculty and staff report any positive cases to the university hotline.”

A follow-up announcement on Tuesday stated the building would reopen Wednesday at noon after an investigation into the unreported COVID-19 cases was closed.

“As we reopen studio spaces, it is so important to our arts community that students, faculty and staff continue to follow COVID safety protocols enacted by the university,” Higginbotham said. “I am grateful to those who have adhered to them and those who continue to do so.”

“We don’t want to lose access to the building under any circumstances,” said senior craft and material studies major Tyler Hurwitz. “That’s why we pay tuition.” 

Senior craft and material studies major Madeline Maier said she was in her casting and stone setting class with professor Susie Ganch when she was called to the front of the room and told she had 15 minutes to collect her things and evacuate the building. 

“I was kind of in shock,” Maier said. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Maier said she didn’t believe the arts department’s narrative of student neglect in reporting COVID-19 cases.

“Anyone that I know who has tested positive has done everything in their power to report it to the school,” Maier said.

Maier said the university should provide more safety precautions, such as temperature checks at building entrances. She said hand sanitizer stations are often empty at the Fine Arts Building.

Maier said she was tested for COVID-19 through a third party with her roommates. She said VCU was unable to immediately schedule a test for her. 

Senior craft and material studies major Tyler Hurwitz said she was also in class on Feb. 3 and was told to evacuate the building within 15 minutes. Hurwitz said she felt “attacked” by the email from Higginbotham.

“We don’t want to lose access to the building under any circumstances,” Hurwitz said. “That’s why we pay tuition.” 

Officers from VCU’s Police Department walked around the building at 9 p.m. on Friday night to enforce the closure, according to VCUarts spokesperson Teresa Engle.

“We remind everyone entering the FAB to follow VCU’s public health measures, including required face coverings and physical distancing,” Engle said in an email.

All students, faculty and staff are required to complete the university’s daily health checks, which screen for symptoms of COVID-19. Completed checks are required before entering any VCU-affiliated building, per VCU’s new Entry Pass system. 

Students, faculty and staff must report symptoms or possible exposures to the COVID-19 hotline at 804-628-7425. Officials on the hotline will decide if individuals need to quarantine, isolate or get tested for COVID-19. 

The university suggests students with possible symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home and call University Student Health Services at 804-828-8828 to discuss testing.

VCU announced in January that the Fine Arts Building will be renamed to pay tribute to Murry N. DePillars, Ph.D., a former dean of the arts school. 

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