Bienen to acquire a new lakefront building

Stephanie Yang and Stephanie Yang

Music and communication majors will have a new home near the Lakefill in fall 2015.

University officials announced plans Friday for a building on Northwestern’s lakefront to serve as the new headquarters of the Bienen School of Music. Construction will begin this spring for the building, which will provide additional space on the fifth floor for the School of Communication.

The new building will have classrooms, teaching labs, faculty and administrative offices, teaching studios, practice rooms, student lounges, choral and orchestra libraries, a choral rehearsal and recital room, a black box theater and a 400-seat recital hall. It will be next to Pick-Staiger Concert Hall and connected to Regenstein Hall of Music. A music and arts green area will tie together the music building, the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Pick-Staiger and the Theatre and Interpretation Center in one pedestrian walkway around Arts Circle Drive.

The construction is scheduled to start in May, and administrators expect the project will be complete in three years, said Al Cubbage, vice president for university relations. Cubbage said the University has solicited funds from donors interested in the Bienen School of Music. The estimated cost for the building is $117 million.

Bonnie Humphrey, director of design and construction, said concept drawings are being finalized and will next be released to general contractors for bidding.

“It was always intended for there to be a music building on this site,” Humphrey said.

In the 1970s the University planned to construct a new building attached to Regenstein, Humphrey said, but never did. In 2004 the University began plans for a building in southeast campus.

“That was kind of the start of this current project,” Humphrey said.

Goettsch Partners, Inc. of Chicago will design the building, estimated to be about 150,000 square feet. Four architect firms were selected and asked to submit proposals for the new music building, and trustees and members of the administration selected the winner.

The current Music Administration Building, 711 Elgin Road, is old and not entirely functional. In addition, many aspects of the music program are spread among the Music Administration Building, Pick-Staiger and Regenstein.

“One of the key goals is to bring together the School of Music operations into one complex of buildings,” Cubbage said.

Rick Morris, the School of Communication associate dean of finance and administration, said the University has needed the music building for many years. Morris said the School of Communication was approached approximately a year ago and offered the fifth floor of the new building.

The school has suffered a lack of faculty offices and has not been able to increase facilities for students, especially in the Department of Theatre, Morris said. The Department of Communication Studies is split into multiple buildings across campus.

Weinberg freshman Lauren Biglow said she is excited about the prospect of the new music building. Biglow is in Chapel Choir and takes private voice lessons with a graduate student in Bienen.

“I feel like (the facilities in the Music Administration Building) are very functional, they are used a lot, but the thought of a new building is really refreshing,” Biglow said.

Biglow also said she thinks the combination of Communication and Bienen spaces will provide a more complete view of NU’s music opportunities.

“While the Music Administration Building is such a hub for music here, it would be so much more of an active center when combined with the communications aspect side of things,” Biglow said. “I think it could make the community even more vibrant.”

Humphrey said there are no definite plans for the old Music Administration Building after the new location is completed. However, she added the building is a historical landmark and will be renovated or repurposed rather than demolished.

Expectations for a new building have grown among students, including Bienen freshman Chuck Foster.

“The upgrading of the music facilities was a big part of my decision as to which college I would be attending,” Foster said.

He said he was given the impression during tours and information sessions that the music building would be finished much earlier, but plans for the lakeside building – originally slated for a “late 2011” groundbreaking – were delayed because of funding concerns.

Foster said while he appreciates the many opportunities at NU, this music building is one he will not be able to take advantage of because he will be close to graduation.

“I’m mostly just irritated that it wasn’t as big of a priority as it was made out to be,” Foster said.

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