Thompson Hall construction completed, final touch-ups to come this summer

First play, Amadeus, planned for next fall in state-of-the-art theatre

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Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 12:00 am

Arts Village residents toured Thompson Hall's renovated crafts center and theaters Tuesday just days before the building will host its first function. Donors to the restoration project will meet for a luncheon to celebrate the realization of the reconstruction goals Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Tom Stafford laid out when the project began.

Associate Vice Chancellor Alex Miller, who gave the tour, said the project was finishing up right on time--almost too close for comfort.

"We're cutting this by the skin of our teeth," Miller said. "We were supposed to have it inspected last week, but our final inspection is this Thursday."

While the project is finishing up without a moment to spare, though, Miller said the facilities and specifications he wanted to see in the finished product make Thompson one of the finest buildings on campus.

"In the original design, large, wide-spaced rooms kept things from going on at the same time," Miller said, alluding to the noise from different projects keeping simultaneous production down. "That issue has been addressed by creating multiple, smaller craft rooms."

While the craft center will feature state-of-the-art facilities and space, Miller stressed the appeal of the space wasn't about what it looked like, but what students created using the space.

"The craft center isn't about the beauty of the space," Miller said, alluding to the new pottery tools available in the center. "It's  about the beauty of what you make with your hands."

And, according to Miller, students will have options when it comes to getting involved with the center.

There will be a schedule of non-academic courses where students pay a small fee to attend six to eight week courses and an available semester-long studio pass for users who display the skill necessary to use the center safely, Miller said.

Beyond the functions of the building, the renovations team took care to preserve Thompson Hall's storied past, from leaving a stone engraved on the front of the building that says "Thompson Gymnasium" to the woodshop downstairs which is housed on top of the filled-in pool students used to swim in.

"The basement also used to house a rifle range," Stafford said. "But when the U.S. Army inspected it, there were so many violations, my predecessor shut it down that very day."

But the students on the tour, beyond being content with the renovations, were mostly ready to get to work on projects.

"I'm incredibly impressed," Chelsea Jester, a junior in textile management, said. "I've been waiting ever since I was a freshman for it to reopen and now I can't wait to get a studio pass."

The pass would cost between $50 and $60, Miller said, and Jester will use her pass to create ceramics and expose photos.

"I'm really excited about the dark room and the pottery studio," Jester said. "I've never had anywhere to go for those things until now."

This fall will be the first chance for students to use the facilities, and Thomas Jones, a sophomore in history and political science, said the project has come a long way since the last time he was inside the building.

"It's better than I thought it would be," Jones, who attended the first tour of the building when construction had just begun, said. "It's amazing to see it come this far in one and a half years."

Jones said he was most excited about the pottery and wood crafts studios, especially since he hasn't been able to experience having a craft center during his college career.

John McIlwee, director of University Theatre, was very pleased with the option of having simultaneous performances with the new theater setup, especially with acoustics that don't allow noise to be heard between the stages.

"We'll be able to have performances and rehearsals at the same time," McIlwee said. "Which will allow us to do more programs."

McIlwee said having only one large theatre in the past was bad for productions as the space had to be time managed very carefully.

"We had to stop [rehearsals] at 7 p.m. before," McIlwee said. "So we could let the audience come in and sit down at 7:30 p.m. for another show."

McIlwee said even the dressing rooms have a dual-purpose, as the designers looked to make every room as practical as possible.

"The new dressing rooms not only are top-notch," McIlwee said. "But we can use it to teach makeup and costume classes."

The building, which will be used for sanctioned events throughout the summer, will host its first play, Amadeus, next fall, McIlwee said.


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