Fine Arts Center to have architect by Jan.

By Federico Burlon

The college’s plans to redesign the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center have gathered momentum lately after Macalester received two donations of $5.5 million each at the end of last semester. The influx of funds will allow the facility’s planning committee to hire an architect by January who will plan the renovation.

The project’s Planning Committee estimates that the building will cost $65 million. The college will break ground on the facility six to 10 years from now, after the completion of the new athletic center.

In what Theater and Dance department Chair Beth Cleary called a “multiple stage process” of choosing an architect, the Planning Committee first solicited applications from architectural firms. Fifty different firms responded to the committee’s request. Art department Chair Ruthann Godellei said that these firms had previously worked on art, music and theater buildings.

The committee has already narrowed the applicant field to 11 firms and plans to select three or four finalists this week, according to Godollei.

Selected firms are asked to submit concrete project proposals to the committee. Proposals will also be shown to prospective donors.

Vice President of Advance Tommy Bonner said that showing concrete plans to donors is an important step.

“Donors don’t give too much without aims or plans,” he said.

The Planning Committee for the arts complex is composed of the chairs of the Music, Art, Theater and Dance departments as well as Classics Professor Andy Overman and a representative from Facilities Management.

Early on in the planning process, the renovation of the Fine Arts Center was expected to happen at the same time as construction on the Athletic Center. However, the Fine Arts project proved to be more complicated.

The slow progress of the project and the exhaustive process of hiring an architect reflect the complexity of accommodating the needs of multiple departments into a single project, planners said.

“This project was enormous. There were very expensive, specialized needs,” Godollei said. “The [Athletic facility] was more common.”

Lack of space, heating, soundproofing, ventilation, accessibility and chemical disposal are problems all departments in the current Fine Arts Center have cited.

“The Fine Arts Center was built in 1964 and since then only Humanities has been remodeled,” Godollei said. “Art, Music and Theater need expansion.”

“The building is 40 years old. It was built for a smaller number of students and a smaller number of programs,” Cleary said.

Godollei estimates that 1,200 students use the facility every year between classes and extra-curricular activities. The Art department alone was designed for only 100 students and three professors, whereas today there are 300 students and 9 professors.

In addition to common needs, the specific needs of each department also play an important role in the planning.

“The main stage has no heating and the black box theater in the basement has no elevators,” Godollei said.

Music Professor Carleton Macy said that his department needs a “bigger and better rehearsal hall, classrooms and infrastructure renovation, especially a better humidification system, which is important for the conservation of instruments.”

Despite the complexity of the process, Cleary said it has proceeded without problems and that departments have collaborated well.