University breaks ground on Com. Arts expansion
"Welcome to another historic day here at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside."
Chancellor Deborah Ford's smile couldn't have gotten much bigger as she presided over the ceremony kicking off the renovation and expansion of the university's Communication Arts Building. The Feb. 16 ground breaking provided the opening note of a construction symphony that will be, in Ford's words, "the most significant construction of academic space" since the campus' main complex of buildings began taking shape four decades ago.
When completed, the Communication Arts academic building will have 91,000 square of renovated space mainly serving fine art students and 72,000 sq. ft. of new space serving theatre arts and music students. The $34 million project is scheduled to welcome students for the fall semester of 2011.
Video of the ground breaking ceremony, including comments from Chancellor Ford and others can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CERHQACwh7g
The desire to reshape the Com. Arts Building to better serve students has been a common theme of the faculty for years.
"Ever since I arrived on campus nearly 12 years ago, I've heard comments about the limitations of the space available for fine arts' academic programs, shows, and performances," Don Cress, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences recalled. "'If only we had A, or B, or C, or D--and when I listen to Professor McKeever, all four--we could be wonders.' We could be a genuine magnet for the visual and performing arts in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois."
It was UW-Parkside Music Professor James McKeever whom Vice Chancellor Bill Streeter credits with providing the basic design for a bigger, better building 20 years ago.
"The idea for this project began back in 1989 when Professor McKeever sketched out a music hall on a piece of paper," Streeter said.
The Com. Arts expansion originally went before the decision makers in Madison during the 1999-2001 biennium. However, the first concept was turned down, prompting then-Chancellor John Keating to form a comprehensive space planning group. That group's findings eventually convinced the state that the expansion project was needed. During the ceremony, Chancellor Ford thanked Dr. Keating, the University of Wisconsin System, and state officials for "their determination over the past ten years to bring this important project to fruition," Chancellor Ford said.
Chancellor Ford was the first of many of the afternoon's speakers to praise emeritus faculty member Frances Bedford for her important contribution to the Com. Arts project.
"Since 1971, thousands of music concerts have taken place in spaces not really designed for musical performance. It is one of the first things I heard from our music department faculty," Ford stated. "But thanks to the generosity of Frances Bedford, a former faculty member in the Music Department, our music students will now be able to have their own concert hall, known as the Frances Bedford Music Hall. So, Frances, thank you for your generous donation."
The 340-seat music recital hall is already anticipated by music students to be "one of the greatest performance venues in the region" but it's just one of the building's new features they are looking forward to using.
"There will be two large ensemble rooms, several small ensemble rooms, a technology lab, a music library, a large percussion ensemble studio, several faculty studios, and more than double [the number of] students' practice rooms," said music student Timothy Keith Griffin Jr. He predicted the improvements "will inevitably draw in more students to attend our school and more community audiences to appreciate it."
Griffin wasn't the only student who expressed excitement about the new Com. Arts Building. Theatre Arts student Brandon Herr said he was "ecstatic" when he heard about the expansion which includes a new 120-seat "black box" theatre and he predicted "bigger and better theatre" for students and patrons.
"There will also be new rehearsal spaces which will provide us with the space for classes and student-produced work. And there's advanced technology that will offer us the ability to adapt to the professional theatre community," Herr said. "The greatest thing about this expansion from a theatre student's point of view is the fact that it will provide for us so many more opportunities for us to grow and expand as artists."
Art major Allison Krezinski praised plans for new outdoor studios near Tallent Hall but what really excites her and other art students is the installation of windows to allow natural light into the art studios.
"Our painting studio will be newly renovated and will allow more than one class each semester as well as the possibility of different media. Another major aspect of this renovation that students are looking forward to is the two new galleries--two stories of galleries--one is a professional gallery that will allow students to gain insight and experience into what they will find in the real world," Krezinski said. "Students interested in programs such as museum studies or arts management will get the chance to help curate, work public relations, and catalog exhibitions. Soon-to-be seniors are excited to display their portfolios of work at the new student gallery."
There's one thing about the Com. Arts expansion that bothered Krezinski. "I'm very jealous that I won't get to be here when it's all finished," she added.
To Parkside Student Government President Ted Ruffalo, the expansion has significance beyond bricks and mortar.
"This new building is more than just space; it's progress itself," Ruffalo emphasized. "It represents another step forward, creating more possibilities for students to be involved in their communities, and lets everyone know this university is not being idle with its students' futures."
Chancellor Ford warned that students, employees, and the community will face sacrifices and inconveniences during the next 18 months. She predicted a level of disruption not experienced in UW-Parkside's 40 year history.However, she added "This project will transform our campus. In less than two years, we will gather again in a space very near here to dedicate the new Communication Arts academic building and we will see first-hand how the learning environment has been transformed," Ford said. "When this project is complete, we will be able to welcome more students in many majors providing them with amazing educational experiences and preparing them for successful lives and careers."