New School of Music makes visible progress over summer

The construction of the New School of Music has completed excavation and has several base columns in place to begin its next phase.

The project completed its first phase in late spring. Following months of preparation, the site is now seeing some visible improvements.

“It’s like the zombie apocalypse of structural columns that are now springing out of the ground,” said Bob Janis, vice president of Facility Operations. “We’re moving forward and moving up.”

Although not much visible progress has been made in terms of structure, Janis said everything is going according to plan.

“We are tracking on schedule with that project from a construction perspective,” he said. “It seems like a long way out but it’s a big project. It’s a large scope project that had a lot of preparation components on the front-end of it.”

Last year, the DePaul Board of Trustees approved $98.5 million to construct the New School of Music as part of the university’s 10-year master plan.

Once it’s complete, the New School of Music will include a concert hall, recital hall, jazz hall and several teaching studios and rehearsal spaces.

The upgrades include a 505-seat concert hall, a 140-seat, three-story recital hall, a 81-seat recital hall and a 76-seat jazz hall.

(Josh Leff/The DePaulia)
Construction on the New School of Music entered its second phase at the state of the 2016-17 school year. Music students continue learning in the Music School Annex on Kenmore. (Josh Leff/The DePaulia)

Philip Li, who studies the cello at DePaul’s School of Music, said the project will do a lot to ensure the future of the program.

“A lot of it shows the school is willing to invest a lot of money into the School of Music program here,” he said. “I think it’s really going to help to put it on the map.”

Eric Heidbreder, a music school alumnus, said the new facility will be a pleasant improvement from when he attended the school.

“I’ve done a lot of tours at other universities and they have had better facilities than here,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s distracting but I think it’s a good step forward to have things look nicer and have the increased space.”’

The first phase of construction started in November of last year, with the preparation of the Theater School annex building to be utilized by music school students. 

“We sat in place a quantity of practice rooms, there’s a couple of classrooms in there, (and) a couple of storage elements in the space that the music students are using, versus what they used to have in place in the McGaw building,” he said.

Janis said temporary utility work had to be done before the building could actually be demolished.

“The downside of the demolition of McGaw from a practical perspective, on my end, is that all of the heating, cooling, electrical, telecommunications and water facilities serving the existing music school building, which needed to continue to function, and the concert hall building, which needed to continue to function, all ran through McGaw, which was slated for demolition for the footprint of the new building,” he said. “We had to put in temporary plans, times two, in place to continue the operation of existing facilities.”

Once that was complete, he said the demolition would begin, which took several months to clear out. After that, the excavation of the site would begin and the subterranean elements of the building were put into place, which is where the project is now.

Li said the project has been an inconvenience since construction started because of his longer commute to Kenmore Avenue.

“It was really inconvenient in the winter because you have to expose your instruments to the cold,” he said.

Janis said there are a lot more complexities to correctly construct a music building because of all the technical elements.

“It’s made up of multiple performance venues, multiple rehearsal spaces, many multiples of student practice rooms and other teaching and support facilities that, basically, need to be sound and acoustically tuned to ensure that the musicians are hearing their instruments properly and the audience is hearing the instruments properly or the performance,” he said.

Heidbreder said the additional practice rooms will make it more convenient than the older building.

“It helps people practice when they want and have the time,” he said. “There won’t be anymore long lines or wait times. Students won’t have to practice outside or find alternatives ways to get their practices in.”

Janis said this is due to prevent things like “sound bleed” from one performance venue to the next. All of these components impact every facet of the construction process.

“How we design the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems are all tied to respecting the sound and acoustic criteria for a project like this,” he said. “It’s more complicated.”

Janis said they tried to use the good weather to their advantage by completing as much of the excavation and structure development as possible during the summer.

“The conditions just get more difficult from the standpoint of working out in the bitter cold and dealing with the snow freezing rain and sleet and everything else that winter throws at you in the Midwest,” he said.

Because of the deadline for the completion of the building, Janis said students should still expect a very active construction site during the winter.

“It’s such a big project and this schedule will stand,” he said. “When the real throes of winter hit, we’ll still be working on primary structure in the freezing cold.”

The last project of this caliber at DePaul was the Theatre School, which was completed about three years ago. Janis said the music school has been even more challenging.

“There are not as many critical spaces that need to be as acoustically attuned as the likes of the music school project,” he said. “That was only slightly smaller in size and scope.”

The second phase of the project will also include the renovations of Music North, formerly the School of Music. This will contain administrative offices, housing offices, classrooms and teaching studios.

Music South, formerly the concert hall, will now accommodate an opera hall and plans will be made to preserve the exterior and chapel portions of the building.

“It’s challenged us, but I think we’ve responded well to the challenge,” Janis said.

The project is expected to be completed in spring 2018.