College Center making progress towards new theatre

The Alumni Board was lead through Augustana’s College Center renovations on Friday to show how the construction was going.

The tour, lead by Vice President Kent Barnds, covered all of the renovations that were significant.

The alumni were shown the new lobby, dressing rooms, the top and bottom stage area, the new black box theater and stage construction area.

The construction has stayed true with earlier promises from the school to add gender-neutral areas when they could. The dressing rooms, located beneath the blackbox, include bathrooms for both genders and a gender-neutral dressing area for those who need it.

The main stage is not elevated. The seating around the stage is slightly elevated, and the sound and lighting areas hang above the seating.

A feature that the theater will be happy to have is a large construction  area for sets, which has clearance around 12 feet in some areas. According to Barnds, it’s a much bigger area than most theaters have for construction.

After the quick tour, I talked with Barnds about construction on campus and how the school decided to convert the College Center into a theater.

“It was quite a bit of serendipity,” explained Barnds. He recalled that there was discussion in the departments of Bergendoff about the infrastructure of the building, and how Bergendoff (although safe) is in need of some maintenance. There were two general agreements. One being that these problems needed to be addressed, and the second, Barnds said, “was that (they had) outgrown this building. Somebody needs to move.”

During these times, the College Center was becoming vacant, partially due to Gerber Center becoming the true center of campus.

“Theater had said, ‘We’re open to exploring other ideas, other locations,’” said Barnds. There was some agreement that this would be the best use of this space.

Regarding the actual construction, according to Director of Facilities Services Joe Scifo, everything is going to plan.

“Framing for the new walls is complete, and the contractor has started installing drywall, which gives you a better feel for how the new theater space is laid out,” said Scifo. “The renovation project is moving along as scheduled and should be completed by the end of July.”

Along with the walls, a contractor has nearly completed the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), as well as fire safety and electrical systems.

There have been no significant setbacks so far, according to Scifo. A fan and ceiling tiles on the ground floor have had to be replaced, but according to Scifo, “as with any construction project, you will have unforeseen issues, and this project has been no different.”

Although other spaces on campus have been damaged during recent storms, the College Center was undamaged.

Regarding other plans on campus, things aren’t perfect. Most notably, the loss of the MAP grants has helped to prevent most projects from going into motion; however, Augustana intends to finish the theater and Westerlin’s I-wing.

Thinking into the future, Barnds said, “Completing the third phase of Westerlin is clearly a priority. The other two projects that we continue to discuss are Bergendoff… and some potential expansion of Hanson.”

Both of these projects are still “on the horizon,” however, and need continuous planning and fundraising before students should expect to see anything.

Barnds commented that this has a little to do with the amount of students at Augustana looking for science-related degrees.

As Augustana works with financial issues, Barnds said that the school has been and will be “working with caution.”

Until the school has improved its financial situation, progress on new projects will be slow.