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February to bring building changes to USFs Fine Arts program

By next month, the halls of the new music building, currently empty except for a few lingering construction workers, will be filled with students and faculty, making room for the art program to expand.

Officially open for students Feb. 21, the new School of Music Building is a much-needed change of scenery for music students. The program is currently in need of more rehearsal space and practice rooms, and music students can often be found practicing on the grounds around their building.

“It will be the envy of any school,” said William Hipp, interim director for the School of Music.

The $45.6 million, three-story building – complete with new furniture – features three rehearsal halls, 49 practice rooms, 32 studios, 25 offices, four technologically advanced “smart” classrooms, a large music education classroom and a composition lab that will feature new computers and keyboards.

In addition there are also two performance spaces: a smaller hall for student performances that seats 116 and a 485-seat concert hall specifically for music performances.

The larger hall boasts a bamboo stage and a 32-ton “cloud” that can be lowered and raised to control sound, as well as thick “dampening” curtains on the wall.

“The thing about a music building is, the acoustics have to be absolutely perfect,” Hipp said. “Not like any other institutional building.”

The design of the 113,535-square-foot building is meant to minimize noise among rooms. The drum rehearsal space is isolated away from other music rooms and surrounded instead by drum practice suites. Practice rooms are isolated with a floating design – walls and slabs don’t touch to eliminate vibration. Walls also have several layers of gypsum and air pockets. Air conditioning vents are lined with sound absorbent material and even their layout is designed to prevent sound transfer.

“Air conditioning ducts can’t just go from one room to the next (or noise will carry through the vents),” Hipp said. “They have to go out into the hall and come back in.”

Artist Janaina Tschape, who has had work on display in the USF Contemporary Art Museum, was also commissioned for two dry fresco murals in the building that will span two walls in the front hall.

Hipp said that while the larger building will allow for a larger group of music students, he hopes that it will also allow the program to become more selective by attracting high-caliber musicians.

More importantly, he said, the new building is better suited to the needs of current music students. Their present home in the Fine Arts Hall (FAH) is not only too small, he said, but also outdated and dark.

“(In) the old music, well the whole fine arts complex, there’s no windows,” he said. “So people are reveling in the fact that there are windows here.”

Hipp said pianos will be moved into the building Feb. 14 and 15 followed by furniture. Faculty moves in Feb. 17 and 18 and classes officially begin Feb. 21. The official ribbon cutting for the building and fresco dedication is March 31.

But work begins in FAH as soon as the music students leave, said Wallace Wilson, director and professor for the School of Art and Art History, which currently occupies half of the complex.

Wilson said the art program has outgrown the rooms it has at its disposal.

“There’s one painting studio here, and there’s one drawing studio here. I’ve never been to a program that was anywhere near this size that only had one of each,” he said. “So they’re, consequently, they’re filled night and day.”

The School of Art and Art History has developed a short- and long-term plan for expanding into the empty music classrooms, but Wilson said deciding what gets done long term depends on funding for renovations.

Current concerns include improper ventilation in classrooms where students would use paints or create dust and that there are only two sinks, both located in office spacing. Because the building was designed for musicians – many of the rooms are small and practice-sized – walls would have to be removed.

All in all, Wilson said they want to open the building up.

“I think the bones of the building, if you will, are pretty solid. And I think it’s an interesting design and layout,” he said. “I really love the courtyards. It’s very Florida, in the best sense of the word, that way – the big breezeways with the terracotta tiles. It’s this modern, kind of box design from the ’60s. It has a lot of inherent, strong characteristics to the function, let’s say, at its most … basic level. But there aren’t windows, in any of the spaces at all … so we’ve outgrown the uses. Students work outside a lot.”

Until they receive funding for major changes, which haven’t been made to the building since it was built in the ’60s, Wilson said some classes, like general education and art history, would move into the lecture halls.

Another short-term change involves turning the old rehearsal hall into the new William and Nancy Oliver Gallery, which is currently located outside of the building. Wilson said the program is waiting on an estimate for the cost of transforming the space to present to a private donor who may fund the project.

“It’s a really striking, rather wonderful space that would afford really much increased and improved opportunities for our students, and others, to exhibit their artworks,” Wilson said.

Regardless of whether the desired renovations are made to the space, its responsibility as an art gallery will remain. Wilson said the new gallery will host three exhibits before the end of the semester, including the Bachelor of Fine Arts show and juried student art exhibition.