A mix of old and new

Its been two years of work and at least 10 of planning and fundraising but the public will finally have a chance to see the restored Robert L. Slagle Hall Auditorium next week.

In the old Slagle Hall, the only seats available were those that were installed in 1925. They were hard-backed and uncomfortable, many with graffiti scratched into their finish. Slagle Auditorium now features modern, red-cushioned theatre-style seats. The old wooden seats have been restored and placed in the balcony.(Photo by David Lias)

ABOVE: Slagle Auditorium has served as everything from a concert hall to a gathering place for graduations, lectures and other university functions over the years. Pictured in this photo from 1956 are students celebrating Dakota Days with a pep rally on the auditorium stage. (Photo courtesy of USD Archives & Special Collections)

At 8 p.m. Friday, March 18, the hall will reopen for a concert by the rock band OneRepublic.

Over time, the paint on the design of the floral plasterwork surrounding the arch of the stage in Slagle Auditorium had faded, leaving it nondescript. With the restoration, pale greens and pinks have been restored to the flowers, making them pop on first viewing. (Photo by David Lias)

LEFT: This photo from the mid-1950s shows an unidentified woman with Slagle Auditorium's original E.M. Skinner Opus 548 Organ. The historic instrument is currently being restored in Ohio, and will be installed back in the auditorium later this year.

(Photo courtesy of USD Archives & Special Collections)

Prior to this project, there had not been one renovation in the history of the building since its construction in 1925.

We went from 1925 to 2009, so Im pretty happy we could do that, even though it took a little longer than we wanted, said USD President James Abbott.

One of the reasons it took so long was because there was so much work to complete. Among other things, the ceiling had to be reinforced, the stage was extended, air conditioning and restroom facilities were added, the heating system was brought up to date and seating had to be restored or replaced.

It was a really complete project more than you normally would have to do on a restoration project and of course, a lot of physical work and a ton of electronic work, Abbott said.

The project cost an estimated $8.3 million overall, said Cathy Wagner, USDs director of planning and construction.

Basically, it was an infrastructure upgrade with an attempt to bring it back to its historical significance, and also accommodate teaching for the campus by allowing it to be a learning performing arts center, Wagner said.

One of the main objectives was to improve the comfort zone for the building, she said.

It was actually very well-designed mechanically for heating, she said. Of course, it didnt have air conditioning, so how to address air conditioning was probably our biggest issue.

Another issue was that of seating. In the old Slagle Hall, the only seats available were those that were installed in 1925. They were hard-backed and uncomfortable, many with graffiti scratched into their finish.

While some of these old seats were restored and placed in the balcony, the main floor of the hall is now equipped with modern, red-cushioned theater-style seats.

Our seat count is about 1,200 now, Wagner said. There was a little bit of a downsize in count as a result of making it more comfortable, but I think it makes it a usable facility now.

Also restored was the halls original E.M. Skinner Opus 548 Organ, the installation of which is not quite complete. The restoration work for this aspect of the project was done in Ohio.

(The organ) had most of the pieces, so we were very lucky with that, Wagner said. We were able to take it apart, take all the pipes and everything, and they took it back to the studio to restore it all to its original luster and use. I guess we were very smart when we decommissioned the organ. We just decommissioned it. We didnt try to do anything to it, so that made it a better project to restore.

Abbott said the restoration of the organ is of particular importance given the universitys association with the National Music Museum.

The installation of the organ will be completed after the March 18 concert.

A lot of the last-minute stuff requires very quiet work in the facility, so we have to wait until students are gone and classes are done so we can do the sound work on the organ, as well as the sound testing, Wagner said. (The hall) is also very acoustically-designed, so we have to make sure everything works perfectly. Its important to have that quiet.

Quiet wasnt always an option in the course of the project, and Wagner extended her thanks to everyone who uses the building for their patience.

We were very lucky that the administration wing was able to tolerate all the noise of the construction, she said. Its always an inconvenience for the students when we have construction at the same time. We try to coordinate with the classes to find out when finals are, when classes are, so we can adjust accordingly. Were not always successful, but we try.

Wagner said some of the biggest challenges of the project arose in trying to keep the historical significance as much as possible in terms of design.

The 1925 documentation was not as detailed as nowadays, so we tried to figure out what we think would be there and what was actually there, and how to introduce some of the modern technologies into the space but still maintain its look, she said.

Abbott also said that structural systems and designs of that era are not something that everybody knows about. It took some pretty sophisticated contractors.

He added that in the planning phase of the project, demolition of the hall was discussed, but ultimately vetoed due to the facilitys place in the middle of the administration building.

Plus, Abbott said, if restoration is possible it should be carried out.

When we built new buildings, it was because we didnt really have a choice, he said. Had we been able to restore what was there, we would have. For instance, the business school building. Well do some improving, but to restore it in such a way that it looked like when it was built in 1957, it still wouldnt be sufficient for the business school. So, we have a combination of old and new.

When visitors enter the hall, one thing they will first notice is the floral plasterwork surrounding the arch of the stage. Over time, the paint on the design had faded, leaving it nondescript. With the restoration, pale greens and pinks have been restored to the flowers, making them pop on first viewing.

Abbott said, I know the adults who were here 20 years ago will see that. I hope students do, too. I think they will.

Wagner echoed Abbott's hopes for the overall project.

Were very excited about it, she said. I think it turned out great. I cant wait for everyone to be able to use it.

Tickets for next Fridays concert are available at the Muenster University Center.

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