Unstarving artists? UVA building boom defies economy

onarch-uva-newmusicbuilding-watercolorConstruction on UVA's new $12.7 million music rehearsal hall will begin in January 2010. Rendering by William Rawn Associates

Artists may starve for their art, but UVA’s Arts Grounds project doesn’t appear to be starving for cash.

Another piece of the ambitious project took shape last week, as UVA’s Board of Visitors gathered in the Board Room of the Rotunda to approve the design and $12.7 million budget for a new music building across from Ruffin Hall, the $25.9 million, 42,000-square-foot “village of workshops” for the studio arts that was completed last year, along with a new $12 million, 540-space parking garage.

As if that weren’t enough, a $2 million renovation of the UVA Art Museum was just completed, $8.4 million was spent renovating Fayerweather Hall, home to the art history program, and there are plans for a new $37 million state-of-the-art drama building and an amphitheater to be built into the slope of Carr’s Hill.

The idea behind the Arts Grounds project, an initiative of the far-reaching Virginia 2020 plan, is to create an arts “hub" on and around Culbreth Road. Ah, within the leather-chaired confines of the Rotunda Board Room, you’d hardly know that the University was facing deep cuts in state funding, or that folks across the country were losing their shirts.

The new two-story, 16,400-square-foot music building, referred to as a rehearsal hall, comes courtesy of Hunter Smith, wife of the late Scott Stadium funder Carl Smith, who pledged $10.7 million back in March toward creating the new space for the University Band and the McIntire Department of Music. Aimed for UVA's last surface parking lot on Culbreth Road, it is being designed by Boston-based firm William Rawn Associates and is expected to be finished in the summer of 2011.

On Friday, September 11, University architect David Neuman, laser pointer in hand, gave the BOV a look at some renderings of the new music building, which he described as having a very “transparent entrance.”

“We sited the building so people could see the band practicing as they walk down the street,” said Neuman, noting that the main rehearsal hall would hold 275 musicians and pointing out that there would be six more acoustically separate rehearsal halls within the building.

It was also mentioned that Mrs. Smith wanted the building to be a flexible space, available for social gatherings and events–- music and otherwise–- and that it be a “lively” contributor to the whole of the Arts Grounds.

Neuman went on mention that the building was sited so that there would be a great view of Lambeth Field, and that there could be areas around the building for outdoor performances. Neuman drew attention to the building’s window patterns, which would be recessed into the body of the building, creating shadows lines and giving the building more character, he said.

Among other projects, such as a $15.2 million “renewal” of Newcomb Hall (and a new $50 million library for the College at Wise), Neuman also updated BOV members on the planned $10.6 million, 16,000-square-foot expansion of the UVA Bookstore, $7 million of which will come from the store’s own revenues.

The project would include an additional floor over the existing parking garage attached to the bookstore, as well as an extensive amount of engineering to reinforce the parking structure “to make it strong enough so in the future they could have another floor,” said Neuman.

No specific use for the new space was mentioned, other than to say it would allow the bookstore to meet changing customer expectations, but the university architect did mention that six to eight parking spaces would be lost due to the expansion and that the large bald cypress trees along Emmet Street, placed there to cover what was expected to be an unattractive parking garage, would be removed and replaced by magnolias.

“We think the building will be attractive, so it won’t have to be hidden,” said Neuman.

At this point, more than halfway through the parade of new buildings, a tired-looking John Casteen arrived and sat down beside his chief of operations, Leonard Sandridge. During the presentation of more than $90 million worth of new construction, there were but three comments from two BOV members, none of them critical.

Shortly after the Building & Grounds committee adjourned, a sort of gag gift was presented to new member Randal Kirk, a UVA Law School alum and founder of New River Pharmaceuticals (maker of the ADHD drug Vyvanse), who was often busy on his Blackberry during the presentation. The BOV presented Kirk with a copy of Think and Grow Rich, a popular Depression Era self-help book.

“But we have information that you may not need this book,” one BOV member joked, to the amusement of all.

Just last year, Kirk finalized the sale of his Radford-based pharmaceutical company for $2.6 billion, a deal that reportedly netted him $1.46 billion.

Read more on: artsRandal Kirk

11 comments

Screw the state, lets build more big building in Charlotesville

ridiculous though that there is a hiring freeze currently at UVA and the majority of their employees were denied raises this year. Is it really the best time to build a nice music hall?

Can u imagine the kind of leverage and clout UVA would have earned if they had spent the billion dollars they lost this year creating a Renewable Energy and Green Infrastructure Dept.? Think of the private donations for R&D alone. Guess it takes an artist to come up with novel and forward thinking ideas like these, because guess what, that's what I am.

I totally disagree with you both. The art buildings have needed an overhaul for years--way past due. Fumes were toxic and dangerous for the faculty and students in the studio art building, and the teaching spaces were abysmal compared to all other disciplines. The Arts are an integral part of the university that has long been neglected in terms of facilities. If you want to complain do so about the outrageous expense on sports facilities, and yes, I know the alumni have the right to do what they want with their money, so finally an arts friendly alumni--thank you Mrs. Smith !

If UVA had not lost over 1 billion dollars of their endowment by foolishly investing in hedge funds and the likes of Bernie Madoff's, they probably could have afforded to get the whole campus "off the grid" and would have saved millions of dollars in energy bills(along with their economic dept.'s credibility). 30 million dollars or so to elevate the Arts portion of the school seems like a drop in the bucket to me compared to the "folly" of the UVA endowment managerial team in regard to their investment mantras.
I think I'll attend business school elsewhere...
P.S. John D'earth is the man.

600 dollars a square foot is outrageous... and this doesn't even include the land.

Who do these people think they are AIG Executives?

Are they going to have gold toilet fixtures?

This universty needs to concentrate more on education and less on providing a grandiose atmosphere.

Otherwise when these kids graduate with their liberal arts degree the kitchen at Wendys will be a big letdown.

wangitus, have u ever heard the web terminology "troll"?

Lack of understanding of uva's revenue stream aside, these buildings could pump quite a bit of money through the local economy. Somebody's gotta build them, furnish them, clean them, etc.

Jesssss sayin'

The Commonwealth of Virginia is looking at very serious budget shortfalls over the next few years. UVA is on notice it must cut it's expenditures and raise tuition. To pursue these sorts of construction projects in the face of these facts is folly of the worst sort. I would really like to get some of what the Board of Visitors are smoking. Of course, if I did that, I would be bankrupt within a week.

just absurd. the lack of concern the BOV and Casteen have for the students and their families in this economy are appalling. tuition is rising at rates far larger than inflation, the endowment is losing money at a record pace yet these guys continue to build non essential buildings that impact a fraction of the university's students and staff. higher education has become disconnected from the real world in any fashion; we all continue to disapprove of that, yet continue to pay for it.