The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Fine Arts Building plans solidify

By Amy Ledig

While students were home for the summer break, progress on the fine arts building continued at full speed. The most notable development was the switch of architects from the Gund Department, a Boston-based firm, to Hammel Green & Abrahamson, a local company. Provost Kathy Murray acknowledged that the switch comes at an unusual point in the project, with 85 to 90 percent of the design and development stage done but said that the change will not set the project back but rather enable things to move more quickly as the locally-based architects can respond to issues more quickly. The switch came as the college and Gund found themselves unable to agree on a look for the new concert hall and the Shaw Field entrance.

At this point, Murray said, the college and the architects know the location of most aspects of the redeveloped phase I, which includes the music building, the facilities management offices and the main entrance from Shaw Field, which is going to be redeveloped into an arts commons area.

The challenge has been balancing faculty wishes with the impact on other aspects of the project. The building is not going to be completely demolished, but it will be gutted and completely renovated. The music faculty had two requests: expand the stage to be large enough to allow a medium-sized orchestra and the chorus to be on it at the same time, and don’t sacrifice any seating. Both have been accomodated, along with enhanced soundproofing that will allow students to use practice and rehearsal rooms when other groups are on stage, something that is currently not possible due to the acoustics of the building.

There are still some issues to be resolved, including the design of the arts commons entry area. The space designed by Gund had the area largely enclosed by glass, which raised concerns about heating and cooling costs. The area, Murray said, is being redesigned to be more like the atrium of the Campus Center, which incorporates glass ceilings on a smaller scale.

Murray said that ground will be broken sometime in 2010, potentially as soon as June.

The planning process, which has stretched back as far as the 1990s, has proved frustrating, but finally seems to be nearing fruition. Classics professor Andy Overman, who has been a leader in the planning, said that faculty has been pleased by the college’s commitment to the project.

Murray, who came to the college last year, found herself entering the fray at the moment of the economic collapse. Nonetheless, she continued to believe the project would be completed.

“It’s inevitable that the people who have been here throughout the whole process wonder if it’s ever going to happen, and it will,” she said.

While design and development have been moving along smoothly, the financial part of the plan has been coming together bit by bit.

“One of the first things you need to raise money is a good plan,” said Tommy Bonner, vice president for advancement. “We’re close.”

Over the summer, the amount of money raised for the $31 million phase I jumped from $5.5 million to $11.3 million. That figure is still shy of the $18 million the college hopes to raise before going to the Board of Trustees to ask for support in May. Bonner said that since the economic downturn seems to have bottomed out, the mood is more optimistic and the college has seen new donors.

Despite the recent fundraising increases, Bonner was hesitant to give a timetable for phase II of the project, which will redo the studio art building as well as the theater and dance building.

“When we get to the first step, we’ll keep moving, if we can,” he said.

Murray, however, remains staunchly optimistic. “My dream,” she said, “is that construction trailers will never leave the site.

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