As early as fall 2000, there was talk of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center welcoming the world to Rensselaer as a performance venue that would service the campus, the region, and the international arts community. When it was first announced that RPI would be building a media and performing arts center, much of the Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication community thought it was finally their turn to reap the recognition and attention they had long been awaiting.
According to Dr. Cynthia McIntyre, chief of staff, once built, EMPAC will be for “arts clubs on campus, recitals, [and] arts departments research facilities since they pertain to the experimental media [and] to performing arts.”
As stated on the EMPAC website, last updated in December 2001, EMPAC was originally marketed to the campus as a $50 million project encompassing 160,000 square feet and was scheduled to break ground in May 2002 and open its doors in August 2003. The current quote for the project is $141 million, said McIntyre.
The projected timeline has now also been modified and is currently set to begin the first phase, which is site work and retaining the walls, in late summer to early fall of 2003. Currently, EMPAC is in the early stages of schematic design, a process that will take about two years, said Claude Rounds, vice president of administration.
“The architects have been very specific about the design statements for the interior spaces, about how we envision them functioning,” said McIntyre.
When the planning committee began looking into the requirements of the building and how to at the same time satisfy the needs of the community at large, they looked for the “community to participate in flushing out their needs and tried to get as many needs as possible,” said McIntyre.
The Rensselaer Music Association has traditionally played a significant role in the arts and culture of RPI, whose “music program on a whole has grown extensively [within the past few years],” said John Thomas, Rensselaer Music Association chair. He feels that “most of the stuff on our wish list didn’t [get granted].”
The music association was asked to give input about what facilities would accommodate their program. Much of their concern focused on storage and security issues. “So many people have keys, it’s like the ‘living room’ for the students,” said Thomas. He even recalled that some of his own personal items wound up missing and said, “some of it comes back, and some of it doesn’t.”
Thomas also noted that the 1200-seat acoustically sound space, which is widely lauded in the design specifications, is unnecessary due to the fact that when the music association holds concerts it is only for an audience of 400. Most of the functions that will be held there will not need acoustics. Also, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall already houses a 1,200-seat auditorium.
Initially, members of the music association overwhelmingly supported the construction of EMPAC because it had rehearsal spaces and storage rooms; everything necessary for a music facility. Members now worry that while EMPAC is being built and West Hall is being revamped that their space, rehearsal, and storage needs will not be met.
In response to that Rounds said, “as we look at planning, we haven’t seen anything that would have an adverse impact on the music program.”
To that end, Rounds said that the committee hasn’t clearly defined the scope of work, the schedule, or the areas to be renovated. They are being careful to try to avoid disrupting the lives of the current programs.
He addedd, “[EMPAC] is being designed as a facility to enhance campus life.”
“Costs more, does less,” said Thomas. “I’m sure it’ll be aesthetically pleasing, but functionality would be nice.”