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Old Well, new look: Updating the accessibility of a Chapel Hill landmark

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the Old Well on August 20, 2023, to celebrate the completion of a new sloped pathway which improves accessibility for visitors. In this image, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and guests participate in the cutting of the ribbon.
Johnny Andrews
/
UNC-Chapel Hill
A ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the Old Well on August 20, 2023, to celebrate the completion of a new sloped pathway which improves accessibility for visitors. In this image, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and guests participate in the cutting of the ribbon.

UNC-Chapel Hill's iconic Old Well reopened Sunday, in time for the first day of classes. Since May, the landmark had been undergoing updates to improve accessibility.

All summer, visitors who tried to catch a glimpse of Chapel Hill's Old Well had their view obscured by high construction fences. Now, the fences are gone, and an updated look for the historic site has been revealed.

The Old Well now has a sloped granite pathway to improve accessibility, and a platform that the well's fountain once sat on has also been removed. It's the first time the well's appearance has been altered since its installment in the 1950s, which sits on top of a water well built in the 1790s.

In a speech at the reopening ceremony, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said that until now, the Old Well had not been truly accessible to all, preventing some students from taking the traditional "first sip" from the well on the first day of classes.

UNC junior Daniel Meng-Saccoccio makes use of the Old Well's new sloped pathway and lowered fountain.
Johnny Andrews
/
UNC-Chapel Hill
UNC junior Daniel Meng-Saccoccio makes use of the Old Well's new sloped pathway and lowered fountain.

According to a university spokesperson, the initial budget for the project was $316,000, and it was entirely donor funded. Due to unforeseen challenges, such as drainage issues and outdated sewers, the University is still calculating the final cost.

The project that started in May took over a week longer to finish than initially estimated. The iconic landmark reopened on August 20 – one day before the start of the fall semester.

University architect Evan Yassky said it was a “miracle” that the project was completed in time for UNC’s first-day-of-class rituals.

“There's 230 years worth of utilities, a number of which have been abandoned and don't really appear on our mapping system,” Yassky said. “So, it took many, many days to figure out where things were.”

After the stress of the daunting renovation schedule, Yassky said seeing the Old Well in action on Monday was “thrilling.”

“This is a place that everyone sees, and it was such a challenge to pull it off in the end,” he said. “Lots of people kind of went out of their way to say, ‘We want to help with this.’ So that sense of teamwork was just deeply gratifying.”

The university has been criticized before by some students for lack of accessibility. Last school year, some students who use wheelchairs led a 32-hour demonstration to raise awareness for the issue after broken elevators left them stuck in their dorms for more than a day.

Yassky said that plans for the Old Well renovations had been in the works for about 18 months, and student advocacy helped motivate campus leaders to work on this and other accessibility projects.

He said the university's next steps toward increased accessibility include a $5 million plan to update campus restrooms, elevators, and buildings like Caldwell Hall.

Sophie Mallinson is a daily news intern with WUNC for summer 2023. She is a recent graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism. Sophie is from Greenville, N.C., but she enjoys the new experiences of the Triangle area. During her time as a Tar Heel, Sophie was a reporter and producer for Carolina Connection, UNC-Chapel Hill’s radio program. She currently is heavily involved in science education at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
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