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$2M to tune Ohio State’s Hughes Hall

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The conditions in Hughes Hall were “scary.”

At least that’s how Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee described them.

But that was before a recent renovation project to the building, which houses OSU’s School of Music, that included improvements in acoustics, removal of hazardous materials, upgraded lighting and ceiling treatments, installation of new doors for rooms on the fourth floor and Wi-Fi.

The Lantern toured the renovations Friday with Gee and School of Music director Richard Blatti.

The project was originally given a budget of $724,000 but was bumped up to $2,183,280, which the School of Music committed to funding. Renovations began over the summer, so the project could be completed while many students were away for Summer Quarter. The six-week project was completed on Sept. 16, 2011.

The major fix to Hughes Hall was the building’s acoustics. Because the building, which was built in 1948, was not built to house a music school, sound would “leak” out of practice rooms, which made it hard for students to play their own music.

The new rooms feature sound insulation, called “box-in-box,” which helps contain the sound of the music to the room from which it originates.

Facilities Operations and Development described the acoustics upgrades as fixes on a “short- to mid-term basis,” according to its website.

Rooms on the fourth floor received new doors, not only to insulate sound, but because door handles on the old doors would fall off or simply not work, which resulted in students occasionally getting trapped in their rooms.

Music students share a story about one student who got trapped in a room without a phone. He tried to escape by climbing out of a window, walking along a ledge on the outside of the building and re-entering through an open window.

Blatti said students would have to knock on their doors until someone came to let them out.

“Wow,” Gee said. “That’s scary.”

The fourth floor hallway also received a ceiling, as it did not have one prior.

Insects were also an issue. Students reported seeing cockroaches in the building, but Blatti said he now only sees insects “here and there.”

A drum set studio was built in the basement, as well as new practice rooms.

Despite the upgrades, some things in the building have not yet been updated. For example, the pianos in the building are noticeably outdated, but Blatti said it would require millions of dollars to upgrade instruments.

Still, Gee said the renovations are a “good start” and that he’s “very committed” to the arts district.

“This is good, but this should have been done earlier,” Gee said.

Blatti said the renovations exceeded his expectations and even said the building is “much more efficient and beautiful.”

“The aesthetic does have an impact on people who are sensitive to aesthetics,” Blatti said. “When you’re trying to make great art and you’re faced with an ugly wall and a window that’s dirty, it has an impact. There’s no way to get around it.”

Gee said he believes the renovations will make the School of Music more attractive to future students.

He said current students have been attracted to OSU’s music programs because of its faculty. Now he hopes future students are attracted to the facilities as well.

“I think it will make us even more competitive,” he said. “I think it will also give us opportunities we haven’t had up to now in terms of some of the things we want to do and some of the things we want to attract. I think that’s very important to us.”

Some faculty members and students were pleased with the renovations.

Tamara Regensburger, a lecturer of applied voice, said the renovations were an upgrade from the previously “deplorable” conditions in the building.

“There are still many changes that will still continue to need to be made, but where we are now is certainly a lot better than where we were,” she said.

Katie Kuvin, a fourth-year in performance and music education, said students appreciate the renovations, particularly the fixes made on the fourth floor, but said more work needs to be done. She recommended a new auditorium.

“There’s a lot of outside noise that comes in (the auditorium), so we’ll hear trucks backing up and things like that during recitals, and that’s really difficult and distracting, so it would be really nice if we had a space we could be proud of for student performances in particular,” she said.

Other students were less pleased with the renovations.

Jim Eder, a third-year in performance, said he didn’t notice any significant improvements.

“My first impression is that it was a $2 million paint job,” he said. “The building doesn’t seem like it’s an exponentially better place or in better condition.”

Renovations to Hughes Hall were supposed to begin in 2008, but were put on hold when OSU changed plans, deciding to focus on renovating the “Academic Core North” instead. The area consists of Tuttle Park Place, Woodruff Avenue, High Street and 17th Avenue, according to an April 8, 2008, report in The Lantern.

On top of the Hughes Hall renovations, plans are in place for a $22 million renovation to Sullivant Hall, which houses the Department of Dance. It will create a new location for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and is scheduled to begin in January and be complete in July 2013.

A multiple-phase renovation of Hopkins Hall has cost more than $9 million. The renovation consolidates the functions of Hopkins Hall and Hayes Hall, both buildings that house the Department of Art, after Haskett Hall was vacated in July.

As for what’s next for Hughes Hall, Gee said further renovations are possible and plans to renovate Weigel Hall, as well.

“This is this teaching space, so this has to be at the top of our calendar,” Gee said.

Blatti said he believes the upgrades will rejuvenate the school.

“It gives us a shot in the arm,” Blatti said. “It shows we’re important to somebody.”

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