UVA Inn at Darden — The forum hotel

Charlottesville, Va.


Submitted By: W.M. Jordan Co.

Owner: UVA Darden School Foundation

Lead Design Firm: Cooper Carry

General Contractor: W.M. Jordan Co.

Civil Engineer: VHB

Structural Engineer: Uzun & Case LLC

MEP Engineer: Barrett Woodyard and Associates

Developer: Matthews Development Co.

Owner’s Rep: Car Cos.

Subcontractors: Moore’s Electrical & Mechanical Construction Inc.; Donley’s Inc.; Faulconer Construction Co.; Liphart Steel; Roof Services Corp.; Campostella Builders and Supply Corp.; Masonomics Inc.; Pompei Inc.; James River Nurseries

Extensive planning and some fortuitous timing helped The Inn at Darden project team deliver a much needed upgrade to the University of Virginia’s hospitality offerings. Also known as The Forum Hotel, the 200,585-sq-ft, 199-key boutique hotel includes a Conference Wing, Main House and Residence Wing. The hotel surrounds a 6-acre arboretum with a central stream flowing between two ponds. Several meeting and entertainment spaces are interspersed among a botanical garden. The $96.2-million project broke ground in January 2021 and was completed in April 2023.

Construction manager at-risk W.M. Jordan joined the team of the Cooper Cary-designed project in 2019 and continued preconstruction through 2020, when the construction industry confronted the initial challenges of the pandemic. Patrick Barbier, senior project manager at W.M. Jordan, says the team was able to work with the designer and the owner on material costs and scheduling concerns early enough to navigate through those challenging times.

UVA Inn at Darden -The Forum Hotel

Photo by Meagan Williamson Photography, courtesy W.M. Jordan Co.

“We were pricing this at a time when COVID was pretty scary,” he recalls. “We were able to get good pricing from our trade partners because everybody was a little nervous.”

One key example was getting electrical switchgear purchased early. Barbier says that component had lead times of about 16 weeks when the team ordered the equipment. A year later, lead times had stretched to over a year.

“In the course of two years [under construction], we saw supply chains get snarled up and inflation got snarled up, but this project was pretty well protected because our trade partners had signed deals with suppliers early,” he says. “The owner was able to enjoy advantageous pricing, and we were able to get our big orders in before the supply chains really got crazy.”

UVA Inn at Darden -The Forum Hotel

Photo by Meagan Williamson Photography, courtesy W.M. Jordan Co.

The new hotel replaces an existing inn that was outdated and lacking essential services, says Robert Neal, principal at Cooper Cary. The guest rooms were small, floors did not align properly and the inn didn’t have food and beverage facilities (F&B).

“There was an option to renovate, but there was a greater advantage to being able to have larger spaces and provide F&B,” he says.

Neal says the new facility, built primarily to support the Darden School of Business, better represents the school’s vision and offers an exceptional hospitality experience for students, alumni and other stakeholders.

Most of the original inn was demolished to make way for the new facility. But about one-quarter was retained and renovated to create offices for the Darden School Foundation.

UVA Inn at Darden -The Forum Hotel

Photo by Chris Molna, courtesy W.M. Jordan Co.

Deep Concerns

One of the project’s main challenges arose during excavation. The original design included deep foundations over about 30% of the site. Crews discovered unexpected rock and unsuitable soil, requiring rock removal from the entire conference wing slab area. An updated design doubled the number of deep foundations. The structure is set on standard footings, which go down to rock below the conference wing. For the residence and guest wings, however, deeper foundations were needed. In those areas, the team decided to use rigid inclusions drilled down between 20 ft and 40 ft beneath each footing until they hit good structural material, Barbier says.

The change added about five weeks to the schedule. Using lean principles to help regain schedule, the project team collaborated with the MEP and structure trades to decrease the size of each concrete pour. Once crews began pours, the new strategy would allow the trades to accelerate the schedule by pouring concrete every three days instead of every five. The plan helped recover three weeks of the schedule over an eight-week period.

Owner-directed changes late in the project also led to modifications to the original budget and original schedule. Two-thirds of the way through the project, the owner changed the hotel operator to Kimpton. The new operator wanted to convert a limited-service café with no wet kitchen into a full-service pub with full commercial kitchen. Other changes included altered electrical components in the guest rooms and the selection of new finish treatment across the hotel.

UVA Inn at Darden -The Forum Hotel

Photo by Chris Molna, courtesy W.M. Jordan Co.

Other areas that saw modifications included the facility’s extensive landscaping, highlighted by the $10-million arboretum. Serving as a central unifying feature of the entire project, the arboretum features over 278 boulders weighing up to six tons each, placed to create a natural-looking waterfall with three pools that feed two recirculating ponds.

Despite some delays and added scope, the team was able to deliver the project in time to open for an alumni weekend in April.


Located on the grounds of the Darden School, the new facility was conceived as a “central gathering crossroads for the north grounds.” Influenced by the university’s Jeffersonian architecture, its design references the university’s historic character and adapts selected forms to respond to present-day constructibility and functionality. Care was taken to design accurate classical architectural elements. Some features, however, such as windows, were enlarged to allow light to fill the interior guest rooms and public spaces. The lobby, its bar and restaurant and meeting prefunction areas are situated with views through the large windows to the arboretum and botanical gardens.

UVA Inn at Darden -The Forum Hotel

Photo by Chris Molna, courtesy W.M. Jordan Co.

The construction team had a stellar safety record. As part of its safety program, W.M. Jordan instituted Virginia’s Building Excellence in Safety, Health and Training program. It is a three-tiered program focusing on personal responsibility, voluntary engagement and continuous improvement. The system encourages and empowers contractors and workers to exceed minimum requirements and established regulations.

For example, to alleviate concerns of leading-edge fall hazards, the concrete trade partner cast tie-off points into the underside of each slab every 50 ft. That allowed all trade partners to tie-off correctly to overhead points without the typical lines lying on the ground that could cause further trip hazards.

Trade supervisors and the W.M. Jordan team performed a weekly site walk led by a rotating trade partner foreman, who would point out safety issues through his or her eyes. The process helped establish that everyone is a safety officer, according to the team.

The project underwent a voluntary Virginia Occupational Safety and Health inspection, which resulted in no issues found. During the project’s 1.35 million work hours, the team saw no OSHA recordable incidents and no lost-time accidents.

UVA Inn at Darden -The Forum Hotel

Photo by Chris Molna, courtesy W.M. Jordan Co.