CHARLOTTESVILLE — Charlottesville’s Confederate statues will come down Saturday morning, a historic moment that city officials shrouded in secrecy all week.
A company contracted to install temporary fencing began its work Friday morning, hours before the city announced early Friday afternoon that the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson would come down Saturday.
City workers also had begun to cut shrubbery and trees to allow for the removal, but city leaders had remained mum on plans for the removal of the controversial statues. City officials did not answer questions about why the move was hushed and rushed.
After the news broke Friday morning, the city issued a news release about the removals. The release also said that streets around and between the Market Street and Court Square parks will be closed all day Saturday.
“Good luck tomorrow,” a city Parks and Recreation employee was overheard telling a city public works employee Friday in Court Square Park.
The Jackson statue was installed in 1921 while the Lee statue went up in 1924. Philanthropist Paul McIntire paid for both statues. Local activists have spent years highlighting how the statues were erected as part of the Jim Crow era in the 1920s and that they represented an attack on black residents.
The city has been working toward the removal of the bronze statues for years. A change in state law and a Supreme Court of Virginia decision paved the way for the recent effort. Councilors voted June 7 to remove the statues. The city was then required to observe a 30-day waiting period before taking further action on removing the statues.
That waiting period ended this week.
A media area will open at 6 a.m. Saturday, but city spokesman Brian Wheeler didn’t say when the statue removals will begin. He also did not say which statue would be removed first or whether the removals would occur simultaneously.
“People doing the work have this under control,” Wheeler said Friday.
The city would not name the company it selected to remove the statues. Wheeler said the city will post bid documents Saturday morning.
On Friday, as the fencing was installed, the city released an emergency procurement notice for the temporary fencing. That contract was awarded to van Dalen Industries, a temporary-fencing provider in Charlotte Hall, Maryland.
Wheeler said he had “nothing further to add” about the nature of the emergency. When a reporter asked for documentation of the emergency, Wheeler filed that request as a Freedom of Information Act request. The city has five business days to provide those documents.
The city moved quickly to remove the statues following a City Council vote Wednesday to appropriate $1 million for removal, storage, or covering of the Confederate statues, as well as the one of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Shoshone interpreter Sacagawea.
That resolution also gave City Manager Chip Boyles the ability to spend the money at his discretion for any costs related to the removing, storing or covering of the statues.
Boyles said in June that the city would have to procure services for a contractor to remove the statues. “… and I don’t know how long that will take,” he said.
The statues will be removed but the stone bases will be left in place, to be removed at a later date, according to the release. Both statues will be stored in an unspecified secure location on city property, per the release.
The city has moved quickly since then to remove the statues. Wheeler said he had nothing to add about the pace of removal or related security concerns.
“City Council has said they want them removed as quickly as possible,” he said.
Friday evening, state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, wrote in a letter to city councilors that demolishing the statues or altering them in any way was not an option, citing the state law that allows localities to remove war memorials or monuments.
Reeves wrote that localities only have the authority to remove, relocate or cover those monuments.
“Regardless of the impassioned sentiment and opinions over the monuments, they are invaluable and irreplaceable,” Reeves wrote.
He later added, “You can love them or hate them, but you cannot alter or destroy them.”
The fencing installation came a day after Parks and Recreation employees cut down a tree and trimmed others near the Lee statue. New orange fencing formed a wider perimeter around the statues and replaced the plastic temporary fencing that has surrounded the statues’ bases for years.
No one from the public will have access to the area inside the temporary fencing.
"Designated public viewing areas for the removals will be established in both parks," according to the release. "The city will rely on its local media partners to broadcast the event for the public that wishes to watch remotely."
Media members won’t have access to power at the site.
The city has not yet put out a public request for bids from construction companies interested in helping with the removals. Albemarle County publicly bid out for the removal of its Confederate soldier statue, as did the University of Virginia for the future removal of its monument to George Rogers Clark.
On Wednesday, UVa awarded the contract to remove the Clark statue to Team Henry Enterprises, a Newport News-based contracting firm owned by Devon Henry that removed Confederate statues in Richmond last summer. The request for proposals was posted in early June.
When Albemarle County removed its Confederate statue in September, it did so after the Board of Supervisors voted to give the statue, cannons and cannonballs to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. Additionally, the public had at least one week’s notice before the statue’s removal and could watch remotely via a live feed provided by the county.
Boyles said in June that the removal process and timeline for the Lee and Jackson statues would depend on whether the City Council decides to demolish the statues entirely or to have them relocated. Different services and contractors would be needed for these options.
“There are caveats … if they’re being removed to be demolished in some way, then it would be a lot cheaper than to remove them in a pristine manner and it’s a lot cheaper to remove than if you’re trying to preserve every aspect of it,” Boyles said.
The council has not yet decided whether the statues will be demolished or relocated. Last month, councilors said they wanted the statues removed from public view quickly and didn’t want to see the statues moved somewhere they could be celebrated.
According to the news release, the city has received 10 responses from parties interested in taking the statues — six of which are out-of-state and four from Virginia. Those responses are under review, and the city is open to other expressions of interests, according to the release.
Market Street will be closed to traffic from Second Street Northwest to Fourth Street Northeast. Additionally, Jefferson Street will be closed to traffic from Third Street Northeast to Fifth Street Northeast. To the north of Court Square, High Street will be closed from Fourth Street Northeast to Park Street.
First Street North, Second Street Northeast, Third Street Northeast and Fourth Street Northeast will be closed from Market to Jefferson streets. Some streets around High and Hedge streets will have limited access. More information is available at charlottesville.gov.
Local residents and businesses should review the closures in advance and plan accordingly, according to the release. Public transit service also will be impacted.