It all started with a student inquiry at the UNH open forum hosted by President Mark Huddleston and Provost Nancy Targett on Nov. 2 in the Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Granite State Room (GSR).
Senior music major Nathan Wotton asked Huddleston where he prioritizes the renovations in the Paul Creative Arts Center (PCAC) on UNH’s campus.
In his response, Huddleston described the PCAC as “a mess.”
What sparked a student-led uproar this month regarding the PCAC renovations was the halt of an elevator addition in the building. The PCAC is currently not fully accessible for students with disabilities who require access to an elevator, and that’s just item number one on the list of necessities for the building.
“The university decided to suddenly stop the plans because funding was over budget,” Wotton said. Since the forum, the “Students for PCAC” movement has made much noise via social media.
In a post made by junior vocal major and student leader of the Students for PCAC group McKenzie Larson, she used specific hashtags to get the attention of UNH administration.
“The hashtags made it possible for connections to be made. Once someone posted with the #studentsforpcac someone else could post with the same hashtag and kind of form a chain of people uniting for the same cause,” Larson said.
By using the hashtags #StudentsForPCAC and #whatdoesyourbuildinglooklike while also tagging UNH in a series of Facebook posts, students began taking pictures of broken water fountains and unhinged bathroom stall doors in the PCAC. One student even took to social media by using Photoshop to create a picture of a PCAC bathroom stall on the ground floor of the Peter T. Paul College to highlight the contrast between buildings. Students began writing letters to Huddleston, as well as the administration as a whole.
Members of this group say it’s important that UNH and its students know this is an issue that needs to be addressed, but the intentions between the group and the university are not malicious. The group realizes nothing constructive will come out if their intent is just to criticize.
UNH administration has taken notice as Music Department Chair Jenni Cook received an email from the administration about getting a “phase one” of the plan for accessibility in the PCAC. Cook shared this email with all music majors.
Additionally, over break, the practice rooms will be fixed accordingly. These fixtures include patching, painting, re-carpeting and adding sounding tiles.
By summer 2017, the Bratton Recital Hall will be receiving new chairs and chair racks.
Wotton has been proactive in meeting with university administrators regarding future plans to renovate the PCAC. He has met with the College of Liberal Arts’ (COLA) dean, Heidi Bostic. He reported back with Bostic’s remarks.
According to Wotton, Bostic said the following: “In the meantime, we will continue to work to improve PCAC facilities, including the recent purchase of a new sound system for the Johnson Theater, the renovation of practice rooms in the music wing over winter break, and improvements to the Bratton Recital Hall during the next fiscal year.”
Wotton has also met twice with COLA Academic Affairs Coordinator Kevin Sousa with a master list of key concerns with the building.
In their second meeting on Nov. 17, Sousa reported that he had shown the list to the administration, and that Bostic is in full support of having the PCAC be on the priority list for maintenance.
Wotton said that possible plans for the future include a heating system revamp, repairing the handicap lift in the Bratton Recital Hall and repainting classrooms.
According to Wotton, there are many reasons as to why these changes will be important.
“Performing in an improved facility is not only what our outstanding faculty deserve, but it will only improve our musicians,” Wotton said. “It’s important because students are spending 10 plus hours a day in a building that doesn’t follow fire code.”
Historically, UNH has allocated limited funding to the PCAC simply because the budget doesn’t allow for it.
Current students do say that they are facing some opposition, but only from one specific demographic: recent UNH music alumni who believe that the university is not ignoring the arts.
One such alum is Dom DeFrancisco, a 2016 graduate who resides in the area.
“I am excited as an alumni and potential future grad student at the direction UNH is taking. To say that UNH is not supporting the arts and has nothing planned is blatantly wrong,” DeFrancisco said.