USD landmark to be renovated into performing arts center By Randy Dockendorf
Press & Dakotan After hosting University of South Dakota events for 80 years, Slagle Auditorium is getting a new look and a new name. The current 2,200-seat facility is being transformed into the USD Performing Arts Center. The 2008 Legislature has authorized $8.5 million in spending for the entire Slagle Hall project, which could begin later this year. The South Dakota Board of Regents approved the facility design plan last month, said USD vice president Rich Van Den Hul. Now, the regents need to approve the finalized construction documents, he said. â�?�?We want to start construction work (on Slagle Hall) in September, but we want to keep Slagle Auditorium open for the Neuharth events and Dakota Days in October,â�? Van Den Hul said, referring to the respective Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism and the USD homecoming week. â�?�?Slagle Hall will be shut down for the next academic year and the following summer,â�? he said. â�?�?Hopefully, we can re-open for Dakota Days 2009.â�? The Slagle Hall renovation is only one of several campus projects now or soon under way that have turned USD into a major construction site. The millions of dollars in projects not only address long-overdue needs but also ramp up USD for its transition to NCAA Division I. The move to major-college status affects not only athletics but also academics and the arts. As part of the schoolâ�?�?s strategic plan, USD President Jim Abbott has set an enrollment goal of 11,000 to 12,000 students â�?�? compared to the current student body of about 9,300. The Lee Medicine and Science Hall replacement project should be finished this summer, Van Den Hul said, while the Muenster University Center (formerly Coyote Student Center) should be completed in November or December. Work is moving ahead of schedule on the $20.5 million Business School replacement project, which should be completed by fall 2009, he said. In addition, USD had made more than $16 million in improvements to the DakotaDome, Van Den Hul said. And the Legislature has authorized $15.8 million in renovations for USD science facilities, part of the regentsâ�?�? plan to upgrade labs, classrooms and other science-related sites at the stateâ�?�?s public universities. Slagle Hall badly needs a similar facelift, Van Den Hul said. â�?�?There has not been a complete renovation or major work since (the facility was built in) 1925,â�? he said. The Slagle Hall project will tap into $4.6 million from the Higher Education Facilities Fund (HEFF) available to the public universities and special schools. The rest of the project will be funded by private gifts. The support for the Slagle Hall project can be seen in the highly successful fund-raising efforts, Van Den Hul said. The project was actually scheduled to begin in 2010, he said. HEFF receives 20 percent of student tuition for maintaining, renovating and replacing academic facilities, said Regents spokeswoman Janelle Toman. The original $6.6 million spending authority for Slagle Hall renovation was increased to $8.5 million by the 2008 Legislature, Toman said. The original $4.6 million in bond financing remained the same, but the spending authority was increased because of USDâ�?�?s ability to raise additional private funds, she said. In the past, Slagle Hall has hosted theater productions, concerts, convocations, graduations, lectures, the Strollers variety show and other major campus events. However, the facility has seen declining condition and usage in recent years. The renovated building will provide a badly-needed resource for the USD campus, Van Den Hul said. â�?�?The seating will be just over 1,500. That is a good fit for us from the fine-arts standpoint,â�? he said. â�?�?Right now, we are going from the Wayne Knutson Performing Arts Theater with about 500 seats to the DakotaDome with about 11,000.â�? Slagle Hall will receive an overhaul that will retain the buildingâ�?�?s charm and history while making it adaptable to current and future needs, Van Den Hul said. The changes will improve audience comfort and accessibility, while at the same time offer a professional setting for USD and visiting performers, he said. Slagle Hall could also serve as a venue for performances sponsored by the National Music Museum, Van Den Hul said. â�?�?There will be improved acoustics, improved new seating and a new stage floor, he said. â�?�?On the first floor, we will replace all of those seats. And in the balcony, we will refurbish all the historical seats.â�? Other aspects of the Slagle Hall project include improved heating and cooling for year-round use of the facility, work on the large staircase at the north entrance of the building and restoration of the celebrated Skinner Opus 548 organ. Slagle Auditorium will meet modern-day performance standards, Van Den Hul said. â�?�?The sound and lighting will be renovated, restored and modernized to enable us to host contemporary events,â�? he said. The year-long closing of Slagle Hall will require some adjustments, Van Den Hul said. Offices will be relocated, and student recitals will be held in other venues, he said. However, the wait will be well worth it, he said. â�?�?We are focusing on this as a teaching and learning environment,â�? he added. Because of the large number of campus building projects and other changes, USD officials are taking another look at long-term planning, Van Den Hul said. Among the possibilities are the construction of new student housing and a wellness center, which might be located south of the DakotaDome, he said. â�?�?We would like to take the wellness center to the (Board of Regents) at either their October or December meeting. The housing is on a similar time line to the wellness center,â�? he said. â�?�?The construction could start the middle of next year, and these projects generally take 15 to 18 months.â�? With Slagle Hall and other major projects slated for completion by the end of 2009, the question arises as to whether new athletic facilities are on the horizon as USD moves forward with its Division I transition. â�?�?Our sports consultant with our D-I analysis says the (DakotaDome) facility will stand up there with the majority of D-I facilities,â�? Van Den Hul said. â�?�?In the long-term, we are looking at a basketball facility, but thatâ�?�?s many years out. As far as an outdoor track, we will try to review all our needs.â�?