Previous Plans Revamped: $17M project trimmed to $9.5M to reflect economy

The conceptual rendering left depicts the original design of the new academic building that included a new theater, faculty offices and classrooms. After evaluating the university’s financial situation, the original design had to be reworked. Instead of a new theater, the BLC Theater will be expanded.

by Jess Hoogendoorn

In a world where it is essential to multitask, the university is taking the concept to a whole new level by planning two major construction projects that will occur simultaneously after previous plans were altered.

Construction of a new academic building, which is to be built next to Memorial Hall, and the expansion of the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC) Theater are both set to begin June 2 and be ready for students by September 2011. Construction yards will be set up immediately after commencement so that the projects can begin as soon as possible.

The Lawrence Township Planning Board has approved both of the projects, but not all of the permits have been received.

“A lot is driven by when we get permits, but our goal is to have the actual construction start June 2 with the areas already marked off, set up, ready to go,” said Mike Reca, associate vice president of Auxiliary Services.

All of the construction should be completed by July 15, 2011, but there will be work to do before the buildings are ready to occupy, especially in the academic building.

“We still have to furnish it and get it set up with the technology and some other things for the September occupancy,” Reca said.

The new academic building, which is expected to cost about $6 million, is designed to contain 13 classrooms and 15 faculty and support staff offices, according to Julie Karns, vice president for Finance and treasurer. However, the project was scaled down from the original proposal. The original plans for the academic building included the same number of classrooms but also had production, recording and practice studios, fewer faculty offices and a theater with 250 seats.

The project was initially projected to cost $17 million and was expected to begin in 2011. That date was then pushed back to 2012 because of difficulty securing funding. However, with the economy continuing to make it difficult for the university to obtain substantial external funds, the large academic building project was scaled down and split into two separate ventures.

“You’re getting the same amount of classrooms and functions for the theater, but you’re not getting an additional theater and you’re not getting all that lobby space, all that hallway space, all those extra bathrooms,” Reca said.

Dr. Jerry Rife, chair of Fine Arts, said his faculty members are a little disappointed that they didn’t get every “bell and whistle” they wanted but are still happy with the final result.

“We understand with the economy the way it is, that compromises have to be made,” Rife said.

Since the theater was cut out of the original plans for the academic building project, the extra space will be turned into an outdoor plaza, which will provide a new, attractive gathering place for students, according to Reca.

Instead of building a new theater, it was decided that an addition would be put onto the existing BLC Theater. The expansion is estimated to cost about $3.5 million. The number of seats in the BLC will be reduced from 374 to about 350. However, additions to the theater include space for an orchestra, a deep stage, wings and grid space, men’s and women’s dressing rooms, a green room and, under the expanded stage, a rehearsal hall with a sprung floor, a set shop and significant storage space, and a large capacity elevator to bring sets up to the stage, Karns said.

Many features of the new theater will be unique compared with other theaters on campus. The wing space is a great addition since it is “extraordinarily difficult” to build sets without it, according to Dr. Pat Chmel, professor emeritus and former chair of Fine Arts. In the Yvonne Theater, for example, there is barely any distinction between the side door of the theater and the stage.

Reca hopes students are excited about the two new projects and the effect they will have on campus.

“This is going to be better for class scheduling, aesthetically, for so many different reasons,” he said.

Chmel added that the new theater will be a “house for major musicals.”

The majority of funds from both of these projects comes  from external donors and physical plant funds, which are generally used by universities for the purchasing of equipment and land, usually associated with construction projects on university property.

Last year, there was also mention of an academic and performance building to be constructed at Westminster.

According to Karns, Rider is continuing to fundraise for the project and is in contact with a potential donor who may contribute a very large gift.

However, Rider has already secured some donations that will go toward the $7 million Westminster project. Once all of the funding is secured, the project will move forward, she said.

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