Saying goodbye to the Music and Drama Center

Remember the history of M&D before its demolition.

Jackie Vos 16 June 2022 Posted In:
Music and Drama Center, Outdoors
The Music and Drama CenterPhoto:

While Carleton’s Arena Theater and Concert Hall, known on campus as the Music and Drama Center, has been slated for demolition since the Facilities Master Plan was released in May 2014, its time for demolition is finally here. As we prepare to say goodbye to a part of Carleton’s history, we take a brief look back at the Center’s 50-year legacy.

The Origin Story

Music and Drama Groundbreaking Ceremony 1968-69
Music and Drama Groundbreaking Ceremony 1968-69

Construction on the Music and Drama Center complex began in 1969 on the site of old Gridley Hall. The project was completed with a dedication ceremony in 1971, the same year the Women’s Caucus was organized on campus and enrollment exceeded 1,500 for the first time.

The complex, comprising approximately 50,000 gross square feet, includes the Arena Theater, Concert Hall, the Plaza and the lower-level spaces below the Plaza which connect the two buildings.

Below ground, the two buildings share a common foyer. Also downstairs are a large rehearsal room, practice rooms, an art gallery, a dance studio, an instrument library, dressing rooms for the theater and prop storage. Because the two above-ground structures are diagonal to each other and not in a direct line, many of the downstairs rooms have odd 45-degree and 135-degree angles… including the “fixtures” in the men’s room!

M&D consists of two buildings, the Concert Hall and Arena Theater above ground, but it was designed and built as one unit with a common basement and foundation. It was dedicated in 1971 in conjunction with the inauguration of President Swearer.

50th Reunion Newsletter for the Class of ’69 | February 2018

The Center’s ‘Spotty’ Past

The excitement of the opening of the new arts facilities soon waned when shortly after construction, the buildings displayed evidence of water damage. Ongoing challenges with water infiltration caused significant deterioration of the brick, mortar and decorative banding to the buildings’ exteriors and water leaking into interior spaces.

So, why would new construction be having such complicated and aggravating issues?

Music and Drama Construction 1969
Music and Drama construction 1969

Several studies have been undertaken over the years to determine root causes and appropriate solutions. All studies have concurred that the issue with the building exterior was related to the lack of an interior vapor barrier, which had not been installed during the initial construction of the facility. Additionally, the Plaza waterproofing system had been poorly designed and had deteriorated past the point of repair, which contributed to water leaking into the lower level, most notably in the Art Gallery area.

Over the years, many attempts were made to correct the conditions, including a total replacement of the exterior brick and stone and an addition of insulation to the exterior walls in 1982 and exterior banding replacements in 1990. Unfortunately, the remedies did not solve the problems, and the exterior walls of the buildings continued to decline.

In feasibility studies, architectural firms noted that there were other challenges to the prospect of continuing to pursue repairs to meet the growing needs of our advanced programming. The building design would also require major remodeling to get the facilities compliant with today’s mechanical systems, building codes and accessibility standards, including the critical need to add elevators and ensure restrooms were accessible to all, just to name a few.

Looking Toward the Future

Flashback: Semaphore performs, pays tribute to end of era at Arena Theater

The Carletonian | Noelani Kirschner | May 27, 2011

The recommendation to tear down the Center had been approved as part of Carleton’s most recent Facilities Master Plan, which was shared with the campus by then-President Steve Poskanzer in May 2014.

Beginning in 1921 they [the architects] formalized their planning into the first campus master plan, and by 1928 had completed eight more buildings on the campus. The Depression in 1929 would end construction for two decades. To date [2014], no major campus building constructed since the introduction of the first master plan has been demolished, although we now plan to demolish the Music and Drama Center built in 1969-70.

Facilities Master Plan, May 2014

A new music and performance commons addition to the Weitz Center for Creativity was a part of that same plan. The addition would house the majority of the music program and create a new performance space of high acoustic quality to replace the existing Concert Hall. Music faculty offices, rehearsal spaces, a music resource library and teaching studios were all included in the project.

Construction on the Weitz addition lasted about 16 months with the building opening in September 2017. The music and theater departments moved out of the Music and Drama Center when construction at the Weitz Center was completed. Once vacant, the buildings were then used as temporary swing space while the Evelyn M. Anderson science building project was under construction. Since the completion of Anderson Hall in 2020, the buildings have been vacant.

Ready for Demolition

A lot of work has been done over the past few months to prepare the Arena Theater and Concert Hall building interiors for demolition, including material recycling, relic retrieval, and abatement of any asbestos and hazardous materials.

Music and Drama Demolition Site Logistics Map - Summer 2022
Music and Drama demolition site logistics map, summer 2022

The exterior demolition process will begin on Monday, June 20. For the first few days, the contractor will be preparing the work site, which will include placing safety fencing around the work area and loading equipment. The physical tear-down is expected to begin the following Monday, June 27. Most of the demolition will be done using a large backhoe in the same fashion that Mudd Hall was removed in 2017 to construct Carleton’s new Integrated Science Facility. 

The current work-day schedule will have the construction crews working Monday through Friday from roughly 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The tear-down and debris removal process is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 15, 2022, with site work restoration following. The trucks hauling debris will utilize routes primarily along First, Second and College Streets.

Music and Drama Demolition Finished Site Plan - October 2022
Music and Drama demolition finished site plan, October 2022

Once the tear down process is complete, site restoration and landscaping can begin turning the area back into green space until the College develops other plans for that space. The Facilities team believes that the site restoration will be complete by the end of October.

Construction projects can make some normal campus routines, business or otherwise, cumbersome, so thank you in advance to all of our employees, students, campus visitors and our community neighbors, for their patience with our noise and dust for the next few months!

If you have any questions about the demolition project, please feel free to contact director of facilities Steve Spehn or interim director of communications Helen Clarke.

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