Jesse Auditorium undergoes renovation, maintains original architecture

Contractors and campus construction worked during the summer to improve the auditorium's appearance while retaining classic features.

Renovations to Jesse Auditorium, including freshly painted walls, LED lighting and new carpet and chairs, will conclude before classes begin Aug. 22.

John Murray, assistant director of building services and events, said the upgrades, especially new chairs, were needed for some time. The auditorium’s seating area had not seen a renovation since the 1980s.

“We were to the point where we were going to have to start taping the seats because they had rips in them,” he said. “You don’t really want that for your big theater on campus.”

The chairs will feature new upholstery, backs and seat pans, while the original frames at the ends of each row will remain. Construction manager Kevin Bisges said a project goal is to update the auditorium while maintaining its original integrity.

“There’s a lot of things we can resurrect in a building,” Bisges said. “When we keep the character of the old as part of that transition, I think people really appreciate that.”

The replacement of old aisle and house lights with LED bulbs and the use of the salvaged chair frames, Bisges said, are conscious decisions to move in a more environmentally friendly direction.

“It’s part of our goal to keep the original and use as much original as we can,” he said. “It’s part of our sustainability goals here that we try to achieve to go green and reuse. We’ve got the awareness, which is an important part of our role.”

Murray said the renovations, valued at more than $1 million, have been well received by students and faculty.

“Everything we’ve heard so far is all positive,” he said. “It had been in its previous state for quite a while, and I think everyone will be ready for a little bit of a face lift.”

Suzy Day, adviser of The Vagina Monologues production, said Jesse Auditorium has always provided a functional space for the annual performance. After renovations to the auditorium’s dressing rooms last year, Day said she anticipates the current upgrades will exceed expectations.

“It will show that we care a lot about the arts and have really excellent spaces for them to perform in,” she said. “I think that will make people realize that we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

The auditorium’s seating capacity will remain at 1,732 after the renovated chairs are installed.

“It’s always worked for us," Day said. "People enjoy the space and it holds a lot of people. It’ll be nice to perform in the brand new, newly decorated space.”

The auditorium remained open during the construction process to accommodate events such as Summer Welcome.

“Through the whole thing, we have never really closed our operation,” Murray said. “We’ve been having events almost every night. Some of those things are important to the institution and everything else, so we needed to keep those going while we’re doing the construction project.”

The renovations, Bisges said, were a collaborative effort by campus construction and contractors to improve Jesse Auditorium in time for the school year.

“It’s going to look new,” he said. “It’s got a little age on it, so we have to help it out. We’ve got commitment from people to get all the pieces and parts done. It’s good to have a project when nobody seems to notice it’s going on.”

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