Breathing new life into a building and a program

For first-year music grad student Ingrid Larragoity, there are some things she feels she shouldn’t have to worry about. Like the walls falling in and finding a bug in her instrument.

And as for Diana Cooke, senior word processor operator for the school of music, she works in an office the size of most closets. This wouldn’t be so bad, except the room actually is a closet, she said, complete with a switchboard and Internet connection.

This work environment, Larragoity and Cooke said, reflects the aging and cramped conditions in the fine arts department building.

If approved by the Florida Legislature, a new music building for the fine arts department will begin construction as early as the fall of 2004.

John Richmond, professor and interim director for the school of music, said the new building will have an 800-seat concert hall, a 300-seat recital hall, five classroom studios, three large ensemble rooms and two orchestra rehearsal spaces.

The new building will also house a fine arts library, a few chamber rehearsal rooms, practice rooms and classrooms. Existing media will be removed from the main library and placed in the new fine arts library.

Every year, the fine arts department holds over 200 concerts and recitals, Richmond said. Originally, Richmond said, the FAH buildings were meant to house 100 majors plus faculty, and no one could have foreseen the growth of the fine arts department.

“We have almost 900 majors now in the music and art departments,” Richmond said. “We’ve outgrown the music building.”

Sophomore Jennifer Haire agrees that new facilities are needed.

“There are piano keys shattered on the pianos in the practice room,” Haire said. “I came here for the school of music’s good reputation, but the drawback is the facilities.”

Senior Dan Petrie, a vocal performance major, has reservations about plans for the new building.

“Once we break ground, I’ll be really excited,” Petrie said.

The music box, which is the concert and recital hall, will cost upwards of $55 million.

Richmond said the USF Board of Trustees unanimously voted for the new building, which will sit just north of the existing fine arts facility. When the music department moves out of the FAH buildings, the art department will move in.

One major difference between the existing building and the new one will be the cooling system. If the air conditioning units are not installed with sound in mind, noise from neighboring rooms will travel into other rooms via the air ducts.

Jeremy Klein, president-elect for the student music organization, said the new building could only improve the music program.

“It will suit the professionalism of our faculty,” Klein said. “We have some stellar faculty here, and the new building could help in recruiting new students.”

USF President Judy Genshaft appointed a panel to visit locations around campus. It deemed the fine arts department to be top priority. The school of music then began to commission Howard Montgomery Steger, an architectural firm out of New Orleans, to come up with an artist rendering. A local architectural firm, Cooper Johnson Smith, will be involved in the plans also because a policy states that two firms must work on the project. Students and faculty were consulted to determine what facilities would be a good match.

Larragoity, who received her undergraduate music degree at USF after teaching music for five years, said she returned to USF for her graduate work because of the quality of the faculty in the school of music.

Larragoity said she and other students have had to practice in the theater in order to have more room.

“A degree is worth a lot coming from here,” she said. “We have to have an appropriate area to work in.”

Christopher Devitt, CAB fine arts director and music vocalist, said the music students cram as much as they can into the rooms.

“We are considerably overdue for new facilities,” Devitt said. “We’ve been very patient, and we’re excited for future students.”

Devitt said the main reason so many people stay in the music program at USF is not a surprise.

“We love our faculty,” he said. “They are nationally recognized, and that’s why we’re here.”

Richmond recognizes the limited amount of space that students have to work with.

“We have needed new facilities for a long time,” Richmond said. “We have less ensemble space than any high school in the region.”

“Gaither High School has a band and choir room, but USF doesn’t.”

Cooke originally came to USF seeking a degree while working for the school of music and said she has heard talk of a new building before.

“I won’t believe it until I see a shovel break ground,” she said.