Taking a darkened stairwell down one level to the basement of Nordhoff Hall would leave most wondering the last time the space was used. But making a right turn into a dressing room used by the theater department leads to a space bustling with activity.
As music pumps from a laptop computer and the dressing room mirrors glisten from the light that lines their rectangular shape, theater majors patiently sit while makeup is applied for a dress rehearsal set to start in an hour.
As the students hum along to the songs and have casual conversation, the rest of the basement remains dark and void of activity much like construction on what will become the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC).
‘I think it’s really unfortunate,’ said theater major Ashley Nguyen regarding the freeze on construction of the center. ‘It was kind of a way for us to kind of have more space to do what we do.’
The VPAC construction at CSUN was temporarily stopped by the state Department of Finance in December along with all other state-bond funded construction projects in the California State University system.
Despite the halt in construction, Nguyen, 19, remains excited about the opportunities that the center could provide for music and theater majors.
‘(It could) give us an opportunity to work in different types of spaces toward bigger audiences with different people and the opportunity to see more things,’ Nguyen said.
Colin Donahue, associate vice president of Facilities Development and Operations, said via e-mail, there hasn’t been any information from the state since the initial halt therefore those involved in the project are still planning on the 90-day suspension period.
Construction was halted on the center after the design decisions for the exterior of the building were finished.
Minnesota based HGA Architects and Engineers was hired to complete the design, Donahue said. He added HGA was selected largely based on its design excellence and experience with designing performing arts centers on college campuses across the United States.
HGA designed the performance and studio arts campus at Columbus State University, as well as the performing arts center at Illinois State University.
At about 163,000 square feet, the center will include a 1,700-seat performance hall and lighting, media, scenery and costume laboratories, Donahue said. There will also be rehearsal spaces, a 200-seat tiered lecture hall, KCSN campus radio station and performance supporting spaces such as dressing rooms and control rooms.
The center, once complete, will be valued at about $125 million, Donahue said.
‘The VPAC is first and foremost an academic building,’ Donahue said. ‘As such, a significant portion of the spaces are dedicated to state supported academic functions. The campus therefore will receive state funding to operate/maintain the building.’
Robert Bucker, dean of the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication (AMC), also emphasized that the building is for students, faculty and staff.
‘I choose to think of this structure first in terms of the students,’ Bucker said. ‘Students come here with the expectation of receiving high-quality pre-professional training. A very important part of that is to provide performance opportunities for our students that are world class and this facility will do that.’
Bucker went into detail on what the facility can do to benefit the campus radio station.
‘The radio station will finally have a professional location and appropriate equipment sited right here on campus instead of dorm rooms off of Zelzah,’ Bucker said. ‘That’s going to be a real step up for us ‘- a very important one.’
Jazz studies major Devon Johnson became aware of the VPAC about a year ago, but said the center was more for the Northridge community than for the students.
‘That’s the buzz around the music department,’ Johnson said.
‘Anytime you are talking about spending money they’re always going to have their primary focus be on the people who gave the money,’ Johnson said. ‘It isn’t even really about revenue. The whole purpose of theater is to get the community to come out. It’s almost like unspoken recruitment.’
Johnson said the center could have some benefits for CSUN students and graduates, by positively changing the image of CSUN.
‘There is going to be a plus side but if it were really about the students what would be the difference between that center and what we already have?’ Johnson questioned. XAccording to Donahue, the Northridge community surrounding CSUN was heavily considered before the ground breaking of the VPAC.
Donahue said the university conducted a standard parking and traffic study environmental impact report (EIR). Over an 18-month period, input from the community and campus was received.
‘The community was primarily concerned about the provision for adequate parking near the VPAC,’ said Donahue. ‘The new G3 parking structure was specifically sited to serve both the academic core and the VPAC.’
Donahue also explained the parking load for the center will usually be during non-peak periods for CSUN students, faculty and staff, and those involved in the development anticipate a maximum of around 800 cars per performance.
Johnson remained reluctant to consider VPAC a student-based building.
‘I think what it is being used for is perfect, but I don’t think that they should try to appease the students with that,’ he said. ‘Students don’t care about that.’
Some students know very little about what the plan for the facility really entails. Trisha LaChapelle, a 19-year-old theater major, knew about the center but only realized that construction stopped by accident.
‘I’ve seen it stopped so I said OK, maybe it’s just because of the rain,’ LaChapelle said. ‘It didn’t rain this week so then I was like, oh.’
‘I heard it was going to be big enough for Broadway shows and I (said) that can bring CSUN more money but since the economy crashed and burned that kind of put (it on) hold,’ LaChapelle added.
Bucker said there is excitement on the part of students and alumni alike about the center.
‘There’s been a lot of discussion about how much students look forward to this facility being done,’ Bucker said. ‘There’s been a lot of discussion from recent alumni about the envy they have for the opportunity students have once we open the facility.’
Despite the stop in construction, people involved haven’t stopped working to make the VPAC a reality.
‘We are running like crazy,’ said Gailya Brown, director of the Imagine the Arts Campaign. ‘In fact we are using this time really to ramp up some of our efforts and talk more to people about how this (freeze) demonstrates how important the private support is.’
Brown said that the Imagine the Arts Campaign acts as the fundraising arm for the $50 million dollar operation for private funds.
Private funds include charitable gifts rather than money that given from the state and public entities.
The campaign’s committee is comprised of long-time art supporters in the San Fernando Valley, alumni and business people involved in the community, Brown said.
Notable committee members include Larry Thomas, chairman of the Guitar Center Music Foundation, Gordon Davidson, the founding artistic director of the Center Theatre Group,Debra Farar, CSU trustee, actor Richard ‘Cheech’ Marin and others.
Donahue said the university’s relationship with C.W. Driver, the company contracted to build the center, has not been compromised by the freeze on state bonds and halt on the construction of VPAC.
‘The state-imposed suspension is an unfortunate situation that results in impacts to all parties involved in the project,’ he said. ‘We continue our partnership with C.W. WDriver and are confident that our strong relationship will be maintained as we work through this crisis as a team.’
Donahue said the project was planned with
an aggressive 25-month schedule which is why he anticipates the project completion date will be extended due to the suspension.
As for now, the framework for a structure full of artistic possibility remains barren not too far from the dark, dungeon-like stairway theater majors descend to as they enter their dressing room.’ ‘
‘The center has the capacity of becoming the cultural center for the whole San Fernando Valley,’ Bucker said. ‘There isn’t a heart to the Valley. There’s not a hub that people look to from all over the Valley.’
And as those students hum along to the music, preparing for their time in the spotlight, so does the VPAC.
‘This is a central icon that we can identify with our region,’ Bucker said. ‘I think the Performing Arts Center has the capacity to become that icon.’