Displaced departments search for temporary homes

By Diego Ruiz

The construction of a new music building in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center will break ground on either Jan. 1 or June 1 of 2011, depending on whether fundraising goals are met, according to Provost Kathy Murray. In the meantime, facilities and music departments will have to find temporary homes.Phase 1 of the Janet Wallace renovation is expected to last eighteen months. Currently, administration officials and department heads are attempting to figure out what on and off-campus spaces can house the music and facilities departments during construction.

Temporarily relocating the music department will require finding new spaces for classes, faculty offices, ensemble rehearsals, and performances. For the music department, the planning process involves a major trade-off between having a single department building and being close to campus.

“My principle is that it is good to have people in the most pedagogically appropriate spaces and close to campus,” Murray said.

The administration is looking at underutilized spaces in the dorms, such as rooms originally designed as recital spaces on the third floor of George Drayper Dayton Hall.

Tom Welna, the director of the High Winds Fund, said he is currently taking an inventory of off-campus spaces around Macalester that could become a transitional music department. High Winds manages off-campus property owned by Macalester and serves as a neighborhood liaison.

So far, Welna has focused on neighborhood churches, which he says often have unused spaces during the week. He has toured three neighborhood churches: Macalester-Plymouth, which is across the street from the back of Carnegie Hall, Immanuel Lutheran, which is across Snelling near Kirk Hall, and Fairmount Avenue Methodist, which is 1 block east of the Leonard Center.

Welna said neighborhood schools are also a possibility: one school a mile and a half away has an entire wing that could be leased. Students would likely be bussed back and forth.

Although this would allow there to be a single building for the entire music department, both Mazullo and Murray said they would prefer a closer location within short walking distance. Another building which could house the entire department is the former health clinic at Portland and Snelling two blocks north of campus, which is currently vacant.

Murray, a former music professor, sympathized with students who will have to use the temporary locations. “I know the number of times a student has to be in and out (of the music building),” she said.

Facilities, currently housed in the basement of the music building, is also sketching out what transitional spaces they could use.

“There’s lots of planning; there are no firm plans,” said Mark Dickinson, the chair of Facilities. “The college is trying to figure out how we can maintain essentially the same program we have now.”

He said he would prefer a location extremely close to campus.

“You can’t drive a Cushman vehicle down Snelling,” Dickinson said, referring to the golf cart-like vehicles that drive along campus paths.

Welna said a likely location for Facilities offices during construction would be two duplexes owned by High Winds on Princeton Court, just south of the Janet Wallace parking lot because they “stick into campus and aren’t surrounded by neighbors.”

The two duplexes are just a few of the 20 units owned by High Winds and rented slightly below market rate to new Macalester faculty and staff.

Usually, tenants in these units stay two years. If facilities were to relocate into the duplexes, the tenants currently in these units would not be allowed to renew their lease after one year, and would have to find new housing in two months once their lease expires.

Welna acknowledged that there is a risk that if fundraising ends up being slow and phase 1 construction does not start until June 1, the duplexes will sit vacant for an entire year.

“If we did not clear those out, and construction started Jan. 1, we’d have a much bigger problem,” Welna said.