The Ottumwa Courier

October 21, 2013

Builder says School of Music building is complex

Iowa City Press-Citizen

---- — IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — As the new Hancher Auditorium begins to take shape along the Iowa River, and the new School of Music rises downtown, looks might be deceiving as to which is the more complicated of the two massive University of Iowa projects.

Hancher, a $176 million project, is arguably the glitzier of the two fine arts facilities, which are in the early stages of construction on the opposite ends of campus after the flood of 2008 shuttered the complex they once shared. The steel-clad Hancher's curving, futuristic design will stand in contrast to the clean lines and modern architecture of the glassy, $153 million School of Music.

But the School of Music's exterior simplicity belies what will be inside. Randy Clarahan, an executive with Mortenson Construction, which is managing both the Hancher and School of Music sites, calls it one of the most complicated projects he's overseen.

"I have the unique spot of being able to see both projects develop," Clarahan told the Iowa City Press-Citizen ( "As neat as Hancher is, and as architecturally challenging as it is because of its geometry, inside will be a great performance hall, but I'm going to say it's reasonably straightforward.

"That's versus the School of Music, which on the outside looks reasonably straightforward, but then you get inside, and there are over 150 acoustically sensitive spaces."

When it opens in the fall of 2016, the six-story School of Music, designed by Seattle-based LMN Architects and local architect of record Neumann Monson, will feature a 700-seat concert hall, 200-seat recital hall, an organ hall, opera and chamber music spaces, studios, classrooms and dozens of individual rehearsal spaces.

Each of those rooms, Clarahan says, will be tailored acoustically to suit an array of musical functions. For the performance hall, for instance, architects designed an intricate, lattice-like suspended "theatroacoustic system" — a single curved aluminum screen that will hang from the ceiling to reflect light and sound. Practice rooms, meanwhile, are being built with masonry block walls, double ceilings and special floors to contain the sound and enhance acoustics.

In the final months of the construction process, acoustic technicians and consultants will be brought in to work with the construction team to fine-tine the sound in each of those more than 150 rooms.

"If the acoustics fail, the job won't succeed the way it should," said Jason McKane, Mortenson's project manager for the School of Music. "That's the biggest point we're pushing."

The School of Music is being built at the southwest corner of Clinton and Burlington streets, where UI razed two former banks earlier this year to make way for the facility. Over the next three years, nearly 2,000 construction workers will contribute to the project, and at its peak, between 200 to 250 people will be working on the site, McKane said.

The building essentially will be constructed from curb to curb on the site, presenting a number of logistical challenges for Mortenson and the 13 prime contractors set to work on the project. Office trailers have been brought in at the Hancher site off Park Road, but there is no such space for staging at the School of Music site.

"There's no places to store a lot of materials, so materials will be brought in what we call 'just in time deliveries,' " Clarahan said. "Of course being right downtown, the other challenge is safety — making sure it's safe not only for our workers but all the pedestrian traffic."

Over the past five years, UI's School of Music has operated out of a number of makeshift spaces, including downtown commercial units, churches and the Old Capitol Town Center. The school will have been displaced for eight years when it moves into its new facility in 2016.

In an interview with the Press-Citizen earlier this year, Rod Lehnertz, UI's director of planning, design and construction, said that once complete, the School of Music project will be transformational not only for the music program but also for downtown Iowa City.

"They have as many as 400 performances a year, most of them free, with students, faculty, visiting scholars," Lehnertz said. "And now they're in the midst of downtown Iowa City. I think there's a great emergence of informal arts that will occur at that intersection. It will be really fun to watch and an amazing difference-maker for the community and university."


Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen,