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Features cut from ETSU arts center to make budget

Nathan Baker • Updated May 13, 2016 at 5:49 PM

Faced with a project cost more than $12 million over the approved $40.6-million budget, East Tennessee State University will trim spaces originally set for its arts programs from a new fine and performing arts center to help reduce construction cost overruns.

University President Brian Noland said Friday that bids for the fine arts building, delayed for more than three years by state and local funding hurdles, came in at 30 percent higher than the costs originally estimated by architects.

“This is outside of our control,” he said. “When the architect designed the building, the building that we spent a year and a half designing, he told us that we could do that for the price that was up front. When he put it all out to bid, the bid documents came in about 25 to 30 percent higher than what the architect projected. From that point forward, we’ve worked to bring this building back down into scale.”

The changes to the performing arts center’s designs include some value engineering methods, like changing certain building materials, but also meant dropping spaces designed for the college’s art, bluegrass and aerial dance programs. The 90,000-square-foot building will no longer contain an art gallery, a music recording studio or an aerial dance studio.

Hundreds of seats were also removed from the main performance hall in the most recent design iteration, but Noland said he is optimistic the Johnson City Commission will still contribute the $8 million pledged to help pay for that venue.

An agreement, a memorandum of understanding, between the city and the university stipulated a minimum of 1,300 seats in the performing arts center’s main auditorium as a prerequisite for the city funding, but the most recent designs call for 1,100 seats in the hall.

“We’re within the range of the city’s initial parameters, so I anticipate that, if the city moves in a positive manner on this through their budget deliberations, we’ll be back on the table with the (memorandum of understanding),” Noland said. “Right now, it’s on pause waiting to see if everyone is willing to go forward.”

The president presented the funding difficulties to City Commissioners in a workshop on Monday, and hopes the board will make a decision on the funding soon, before approving its upcoming fiscal year budget.

If the commission declines to fund the project, the main performance hall will drop in size to 635 seats, short of the 750 originally planned for the space without the city contribution.

Bringing the project back on budget will also mean removing $2.7 million earmarked for buying chairs, audio and video equipment and instruments. Noland said the university would then need to raise that amount sometime during the 2.5-year construction period.

“I want to get this building started, to get construction started, and it’s going to take two-and-a-half years to complete,” he said. “Between now and when that two-and-a-half-year period comes to a close, we will raise or secure the funds to put the equipment into the building before it opens.”

Noland said the funding could come from either fundraising or other institutional sources. Delaying the purchase of the equipment would need to be approved by the state building commission, which last year approved the building’s budget.

The dropped program spaces would be housed on campus.

The bluegrass program already has a recording studio, and the campus already houses an art gallery. Aerial dance, which is a new program for the college, would need to find studio space on campus to be renovated for its purposes.

Despite the cuts, Noland said the new arts center will be a first-class facility, worthy of traveling Broadway and regional shows.

“We’ve picked the most difficult path, but I remain confident that by selecting this path, we’re going to end up with facility that the faculty, staff and the community as a whole will be proud of,” he said.

“I’m not disappointed with the building that we will build, I’m disappointed that the process has taken so long.”

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