School of Dance prepares to create more space

Meredith Compton

When the Music and Speech Building opened in 1961, its space was more than adequate for the many programs housed in the building. But now, times have changed and at least one school in the building has outgrown its space.

The School of Theatre and Dance has more than 300 students within its programs, and it continues to experience growing pains. The school has seen its enrollment double since 1998, and it needs more space to house these students.

In January, a local patron of the arts, Roe Green, saw this need and decided to help the school gain more space. Through the Roe Green Foundation, the school received $6.5 million, the largest capital gift in Kent State history.

Along with the gift came the announcement that it would be used to build an addition to the Music and Speech Building, as well as renovate spaces within the existing building.

“More than 300 students are involved in the theater and dance programs, and I feel they deserve to have a wonderful building to work in,” Green said in a January press release.

The donation is part of a $12 million project that will create an estimated 35,000 square foot addition to the existing building, along with renovations to 35,000 square feet of existing space within the building. Kent State will provide the remaining funds through appropriations, according to the press release.

The construction will unite the theater and dance divisions into one building for the first time since the programs merged in 1994.

Plans also call for a “black box” theater that could be configured specifically to every production. This space will be used primarily for experimental and student productions. One hope for this space is that it will encourage theater and dance students to collaborate on new projects, said John Crawford, director of the School of Theatre and Dance.

Preliminary plans call for the addition to be named the Roe Green Center, he said. The addition will be four stories high, allowing cohesiveness between the existing building and the new space. The center will include a formal entrance to the building with a cafe, box office, outdoor patio area and an atrium.

With the addition, the school will gain something else it has been lacking – a lobby for its theaters.

The addition will be built on both the west and east sides of the Music and Speech Building with the formal entrance being built on the west side, facing Nixson Hall.

“The addition will give (Music and Speech Building) a new face,” Crawford said, “The building doesn’t have a front.”

New spaces will also include new lecture halls, along with labs for pilates, therapeutic movement and rehearsals.

One of the additions in the works that is of particular pride to the School of Theatre and Dance is the creation of four new dance studios on the fourth floor, Crawford said. These new studios will allow the dance division to move out of the Gym Annex.

The School of Theatre and Dance is working toward the goal of breaking ground in summer 2007. It recently started working with a facilities planner to gather data about specific needs, Crawford said.

“We’re going through the programming phase right now,” said Thomas Euclide, director of the office of the university architect. “We’re meeting with departments, learning what they’re looking for, how big classrooms and studios need to be, getting all the details. We’ll then put all of this in a document to advertise for a consultant and to give to the consultant for when they design.”

The school hopes to make a list of qualifications for a consultant in June or mid-August, Crawford said. The school will then take four to six weeks to work out contracts and begin the phases of design.

The entire design phase will take about a year, Crawford said.

Once designing is finished, construction will begin, Euclide said.

“We will oversee the construction to make sure the contractors build what we ask for,” Euclide said. “We will manage the whole operation. We’ll manage the consultants, manage the selection; we’ll be at every design meeting; we’ll hire experts if needed; we’ll inspect work and coordinate and train the people that are going to be working in the building.”

Both Crawford and Euclide said that one of the most difficult parts of the construction will be doing the work without disrupting the academic departments in the building.

“It will add great difficulty to the process,” Euclide said.

The school is working to minimize intrusions, Crawford said.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen, who’s going to move where,” he said.

Green, Crawford and Euclide all said they hope this gift will inspire others to donate to the school . Crawford stressed in a January interview that there are opportunities to purchase naming rights for new areas, including the “black box” theater.

“It’s going to be a great advantage to the department, as well as a great thing for the university,” Euclide said.

Plans call for the addition to be completed first and the renovations will follow. It is expected that the construction will be completed in time for Kent State’s centennial celebration in 2010.

Contact performing arts reporter Meredith Compton at [email protected].