The renovation of Spaulding Hall, the six-decade-old home of the Life Sciences, marks the next step in the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) ongoing mission to modernize the Durham campus. However, with the renovation of Spaulding, issues with the Paul Creative Arts Center (PCAC) — Spaulding’s next-door neighbor —have become more apparent by the day.
The need for an improved Center for the Arts was originally identified in UNH’s Master Plan (2004) as a “pressing need,” an assessment which has carried over into UNH’s 2012 Campus Master Plan. The report recommends the expansion of the building that would allow the addition of a 350-seat concert hall, recital halls and rehearsal rooms for UNH’s Music Department. The Music Department currently lacks any form of a concert hall and are forced to use the Bratton Recital Hall and the Johnson Theatre to house performances, despite it being acoustically unsuited for concerts, according to Associate Professor of Music Daniel Beller-McKenna.
“[UNH] probably ranks down in the middle to bottom of state facilities, including high schools. It’s an incredible shortcoming not to have a concert hall,” Beller-McKenna said.
Along with improvements to the music department, the UNH’s 2012 Campus Master Plan also recommends the addition of a new high tech theater, shared classrooms and studio space for the theatre and art departments.
However, fast-forward nearly a decade later and none of these proscribed changes have been implemented.
The reason comes down to an issue of funding. The cost to fully renovate the Paul Creative Arts Center is currently estimated to be $40-50 million, according to Director of Campus Planning Doug Bencks – a figure that is not currently feasible with the $86 million renovation and expansion of Spaulding, a project which is itself not yet completely funded, that will tie up university resources for capital construction for the next few years.
Meanwhile, the Paul Creative Arts Center continues to deteriorate.
This time last year, part of the building had to be completely renovated due to mold. Mold has been one of the major issues plaguing The PCAC, due to humidity and the lack of air conditioning in the building. The first-floor music wing, which contains faculty offices and classrooms, was shut down and completely refurbished to combat the problem. Several class spaces were rendered unusable during the fall 2018 semester because of the renovations, cutting into PCAC’s already limited class space, according to senior secondary theatre education and acting/directing major said Sarah Bendell —which made scheduling rehearsals and class activities difficult.
Executive Director of UNH Media Relations Erika Mantz told The New Hampshire via email on Sept. 5 that air quality tests in the building have shown that the mold problem has been solved. Nevertheless, the lack of air conditioning and poor air circulation continues to be a problem. Beller-McKenna admits to having to cancel classes before due to the heat and students have also cited the heat as affecting their ability to learn.
“It’s hard to focus when you’re sticking to your seat,” sophomore musical theater major Galen Graham said via text.
The complete renovation to the Paul Creative Arts Center is a project that will be years in the making, but there is still hope for the building.
The Office of Campus Planning intends to present a plan later this semester to the College of Liberal Arts and campus leadership that would allow for work to be incrementally done on the PCAC building over the next three to four summers, according to Bencks. This will include the addition of a new music wing elevator, heating controls, replacement of the outdated electric system, upgrades to the Johnson Theatre and improved public restrooms, among other improvements.