Pavilion: Totally grounded

Dear Ace: Admiring the new Charlottesville Pavilion, I noticed something, or rather a lack of something: lightning rods. Big and metal, the Pavilion is a prime electrical target. Where are the safety mechanisms?—Searching for Ground

Ground: Growing up, Ace played on a Little League baseball team. Whenever an electrical storm approached, Big Daddy Atkins would scream to him from the bleachers, “HIT THE DECK! HIT THE DECK!” (Which, for anyone who knows Ace, explains his shrill fear of lightning and Little League, but Ace digresses…)

Temporarily suspending his fear of electrical storms, Ace summoned his reserves of investigative chutzpa to research the science of lightning rods. According to the Lightning Protection Institute, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent a lightning strike. Lightning rods don’t avert a strike, but they offer protection by providing a designated path for the electrical current to travel. Like a detour route on a congested interstate, lightning rods redirect the charge harmlessly into the earth.

To find out about the Pavilion’s lightning safety features, Ace contacted Pavilion General Manager Kirby Hutto. A “big picture” kind of guy, Hutto confessed that he was uncertain of the specifics of the lightning safety mechanisms. Nonetheless, Hutto emphasized that the Pavilion did pass the City’s Building Code inspection.

Next, Ace contacted Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s director of neighborhood development services, who confirmed that the structure passed International Building Code standards. As for the elusive lightning rods, Tolbert says, “The reason you don’t see the lightning protection system is because it’s underground.” Apparently, the Pavilion’s giant metal arch behaves as a lightning rod that is grounded many feet beneath the earth. When lightning strikes the Pavilion (and yes, it probably will) the electrical current will travel along the arch, down many feet into the ground, channeling the dangerous electricity away from the happy, but undoubtedly nervous, concertgoers. (Phew, Ace was beginning to worry!)

But structural safety aside, should you find yourself at the Pavilion with your hair standing on end (from an electrical storm, not from the Spin Doctors), remember Daddy Atkins’ wisdom and HIT THE DECK!

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