Bienen ‘digs in,’ begins construction

Joseph Diebold

University President Morton Schapiro and other University officials donned hard hats and shoveled dirt Friday to celebrate the start of construction on a new $117 million building for Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music and the School of Communication.

The building, scheduled to open in September 2015, will be south of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The construction project also includes a 120-foot-wide green space that will sit amid the new building, the Theatre and Interpretation Center and the Block Museum of Art.

Schapiro spoke at the groundbreaking, thanking donors for their support in making the new building a reality. Schapiro said he took a tour of Bienen’s current facilities after becoming president and realized a change was necessary.

“This is a great day in the history of Northwestern University,” he said. “The Bienen School of Music is one of the preeminent music schools not just in this country but in the world, and everybody knows they didn’t exactly have an infrastructure or a set of buildings befitting the stature of (Dean of Bienen) Toni-Marie Montgomery’s incredible school.”

Montgomery also spoke at the groundbreaking. She said the new building will improve the school by centralizing its students, professors and administrators.

“We’re here to celebrate a landmark in Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music,” she said. “Our new home will dramatically impact every aspect of the Bienen School’s work, by geographically uniting its students, faculty, and staff for the first time in almost four decades, and by placing the school as the center of a vibrant South Campus arts hub that will bring together the visual arts into Northwestern’s own version of (New York’s) Lincoln Center.”

University Provost Dan Linzer thanked former president Henry Bienen, the music school’s namesake, for his vision for the building. Linzer said the new green will create a central space for the arts at NU.

“That brings a really synergistic academic program to Northwestern that features the arts,” Linzer said. “We really want to have this be a magnet for showcasing performance at Northwestern.”

The new building will be designed by Chicago-based architects Goettsch Partners, Inc., according to a University news release. It will include “classrooms, teaching labs, academic faculty offices, teaching studios for choral, jazz, opera, piano and voice faculty, practice rooms, student lounges, administrative offices, a 2,400-square-foot choral rehearsal/recital room, choral and orchestra libraries, a 150-seat Opera Rehearsal Room/Black Box Theater and a two-level, 400-seat recital hall.”

The groundbreaking featured trumpet performances by Bienen seniors Kyle Kremer and Kelly Ricks. Kremer said the new building will provide the most benefit by modernizing Bienen’s outdated facilities and providing a central location for the entire school.

The building’s fifth floor will also house administrative and faculty offices for the School of Communication. The school’s dean, Barbara O’Keefe, said at the groundbreaking the University has “made a tremendous commitment” to improving the school’s facilities.

“We came to this building with a great deal of excitement about what it will offer to the School of Communication,” she said. “We believe that bringing theatre and performance studies and our dean’s office into the fifth floor of this building will have a rippling and transformative effect across the entire School of Communication, dramatically improving the way each and every one of its five departments function.”

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