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Virginia Theological Seminary

Outdated to Optimal Function: Navigating Historic Elements While Deepening the Craft
The Shapiro & Duncan-Virginia Theological Seminary Story


  • Leveraging the spectrum of team expertise to achieve project goals. Due to the historic nature of the facility itself, the Virginia Theological Seminary project required the Shapiro & Duncan team to tap into its network of seasoned craftspeople and technical experts to address renovation needs in modernizing existing, outdated systems originally in place.


Shapiro & Duncan’s wealth of experience in the educational and religious facility space, coupled with its competitive pricing, were key factors in its selection for the Virginia Theological Seminary project award, sourced initially from a Whiting Turner RFP.

The project focused on conducting a thorough renovation of the Seminary’s refectory and dining spaces, particularly to update its kitchen, to restore them to optimal function. A historic property, dating back to the early 1950s, in addition to its generally outdated kitchen, the building was experiencing air flow issues and was in need of comprehensive architectural updates, including paint.


  • Terracotta piping below grade. Due to the age of the building, several elements dating back to its original construction over 70 years ago, surfaced during the project. In the case of the terracotta piping discovered below ground, Shapiro & Duncan was required to bring in seasoned plumbers to assess and advise on plumbing system updates to ensure they were conducted accurately.
  • Historic hiccups. From an inability to use BIM at the outset of the project to unforeseen challenges with roof joists, the Shapiro & Duncan team brought its creativity and network to navigate the updates while keeping the project progressively moving forward.


From the outset of the project through to its completion, the historic nature of the Virginia Theological Seminary facility, as well as the unique elements and processes required to address them, pervaded Shapiro & Duncan’s approach and execution. Due to the age of the building itself, the team was unable to use its typical BIM tools. Instead, comprehensive field surveys were required to assess the condition of existing structures prior to the start of the construction work.

Shapiro & Duncan’s team began the project with demolition, including cut, cap, and make of existing pipe systems to make them safe from flooding as the renovation progressed. New grease management systems were installed in the Virginia Theological Seminary’s refectory to address its prior air flow issues and meet current building codes for safety and function.

In the installation phase, as modernization efforts continued, the Shapiro & Duncan team encountered a structural issue with the building’s joists that would not support the needed updates outlined in the renovation plans. As a result, the general contractor partner on the project worked with Shapiro & Duncan to coordinate bringing a structural engineer out to the site, who recommended a complete replacement of the roof, setting the project timeframe back 45-60 days.

Additionally, as the work to modernize the facility’s plumbing systems moved forward, the Shapiro & Duncan team discovered terracotta piping below grade, dating from the original construction of the building in the early 1950s. This discovery required the assistance of a team of seasoned plumbers that the Shapiro & Duncan brought in, to both ensure the old systems were removed and replaced properly and also to teach the team’s younger plumbers about these older materials they likely would not have encountered in their work as of yet. The ‘teachable’ nature of this part of the project is an extension of Shapiro & Duncan’s overall approach, to support and nurture learning and career development while also executing successfully on client projects.


The Shapiro & Duncan team’s leadership was an essential element in ensuring timely completion of the project and efficient handling of challenges that arose throughout. The team effectively balanced forging ahead on key tasks while the additional job of replacing the roof and joists arose mid-project to limit the amount of time added to the initial schedule as much as possible. While the majority of ‘curveballs’ in this project came as a result of the building’s age and original systems that required additional expert consultation and repair, Shapiro & Duncan’s team was successful throughout in seamlessly managing project activities to keep them on an even keel.


When embarking on a renovation project involving a historic building, it’s important to invest your time in the project upfront, do your research properly on existing conditions, and ensure you have a network of seasoned experts to call upon in the case of unforeseen issues arising.

Contact Shapiro & Duncan for your next educational or religious facility project.