Heavy equipment used on the project has included a number of cranes, as well as typical dozers, excavators, rollers, etc.
(Auburn University Facilities Management photo)
The curtain will soon be rising on Auburn University's $70 million Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center as construction crews add their finishing touches to the new structure. The state-of-the-art facility encompasses more than 85,000 sq. ft. of space with several multipurpose venues designed to host a variety of events.
"The university, its students, faculty, alumni and supporters, and the community have dreamed of bringing a performing arts center of this magnitude to east Alabama for decades," said Jonathan Osborne, director of marketing and communications for the Gogue Center.
"When it comes to the design of performing arts centers, size really does matter. Elaborate shows often require a vast amount of production space, and we simply haven't had a venue large enough to host certain shows in our area. The Gogue Center will be able to accommodate productions never before seen in the area, and many favorite artists and performances that frequently tour through Atlanta, Birmingham and Jacksonville will now have a place to visit in Auburn."
The Gogue Performing Arts Center is located directly across the street from the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. Osborne believes the pairing couldn't be better.
"Together, the two institutions will anchor Auburn's new arts district and enable the university to present a more robust and comprehensive schedule of performances, exhibitions and programs," he said. "Not only for students, but for the community, the state of Alabama and beyond."
The Walter Stanley and Katharyne Virginia Evans Woltosz Theatre will welcome guests for all season performances. The 1,200-seat performance hall will offer orchestra and balcony seating with opera boxes on both levels, advanced acoustics and lighting and an adjustable orchestra pit, proscenium and symphony shell. Outdoor concerts and festivals will be held at the Amphitheatre at the City of Auburn Lawn and Porch, which can accommodate up to 3,500 guests.
Osborne said a number of events will take place once the building officially opens.
"For our inaugural season, we'll present an eclectic mix of 27 headlining acts spanning nine diverse series, including Americana Roots, Broadway, Celebrity Concerts, Chamber Arts, Dance, Family, Global Stage, Jazz and Vocal Songbook. It's a distinct and diverse first season packed with stellar performances and world-renowned artists, from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck to acclaimed choreographer Camille A. Brown and legendary soprano Renée Fleming. We'll present three hit Broadway musicals during the inaugural season — Escape to Margaritaville, RENT: 20th Anniversary Tour and Waitress.
"We're also dedicated to connecting world-class artists with the community through dynamic artist talks, master classes and demonstrations," Osborne said. "Our K-12 School Show program is expected to impact 7,000 local schoolchildren, providing unprecedented opportunities to explore the arts through American music, dance, circus arts and more."
Officials also have planned an elaborate grand opening festival to mark the completion of the performance center.
"We're celebrating in style, with something planned for everyone. The four-day festival will include a concert by indie pop giants LANY and COIN for Auburn students on Thursday, August 22, followed with a concert by Grammy Award winners Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and special guest Molly Tuttle on Friday, August 23. A black-tie fête, the very first performance to be held in the Woltosz Theatre, will take place the evening of Saturday, August 24."
The fête will feature performances by American songbook master Michael Feinstein, songstress Storm Large, bel canto tenor Santiago Ballerini and Auburn's own Jeremy Samolesky. The evening will conclude with a champagne toast and a surprise closing spectacle. The weekend culminates with Community Day on Sunday, Aug. 25.
As for the current performance center, Osborne said, "Auburn's Telfair Peet Theatre isn't going anywhere. It's a great space, with great performances. The theatre complex, which also includes its own black box theatre, acting and dance studios, and multi-story costume and scenery shops, is an asset that provides students with opportunities to actively apply curricular coursework through hands-on experience in seasonal productions. It will continue to function as the university's primary student production theater."
The site for the new structure was previously a hayfield used for tailgating in the fall. It housed a few buildings, mainly storage structures, and the Fisheries Research Building. According to Joshua Conradson, assistant director of construction management at Auburn University facilities management, the first phase of construction began in August 2017.
"This bid package included the mass grading of the site, demolition of existing buildings on site, installation of utilities and the preparation of the building pad (dirt only). The current phase began on Nov. 20, 2017, and includes the building and site finishes.
"We are currently commissioning theater equipment and installing throughout the building. The hardscape installation on the main entrance of the building is ongoing, and landscaping continues across the site. We are also in the final stages of preparation for ADA and life safety inspections."
Conradson said weather has been an issue during construction.
"Due to a known opening event weekend since the beginning of the project, rain days were capped at 21 days allowed. The last awarded rain days were in November 2018 so all rain since then has been absorbed by the contractor. Rain was also a major impact coming out of the ground, since the first activity on site for Rabren was to dig the orchestra pit and audio tunnels."
Conradson noted that installation of the structure has been the most time-consuming task, especially as it relates to the main performance venue.
"The auditorium is separated entirely from the rest of the building by an Acoustical Isolation Joint (AIJ), so at every point of the structure installation, which included steel, concrete and block, we have had to be aware of the joint and make sure we didn't bridge or make a hard connection that would allow sound to transfer."
In addition, the project features hundreds of miles of electrical conduit related to dimming and A/V systems requiring intricate routing, isolation and specified separation. This has involved the electrician's coordination with specialty performance lighting and audio-visual contractors from the very first footings poured for the orchestra lift pit through project completion.
Heavy equipment used on the project has included a number of cranes, as well as typical dozers, excavators, rollers, etc. Approximately 5,000 cu. yds. of topsoil have been moved during construction. Roughly 2,500 cu. yds. of fill material was required to construct the building pad. Excavation took place for utility installation, creation of a pond on site and digging of the orchestra pit and audio tunnels.
Josh Stiling, architect at Wilson Butler Architects, said final work on the project also has included the installation of custom millwork throughout the auditorium balconies and lobby feature walls, polishing and finishing of intricate terrazzo flooring and precast terrazzo stair treads in the lobby areas, and the installation of a custom axminster carpeting designed specific to the Center.
"Some of the notable systems unique to this project type include theatrical components such as a spiral lift used at the orchestra pit, theatrical rigging systems and stagehouse gridiron, motorized and manual adjustable acoustics, a custom orchestra shell and a custom operable stage proscenium."
The project site is located toward the south end of Auburn's campus, which Stiling considers an ideal location.
"The addition of the Gogue Performing Arts Center is intended to establish a new gateway to Auburn's campus from the south, and strives to define this region of campus as a bustling arts district."
As he prepares for the grand opening, Osborne is extremely encouraged by the reaction on campus and beyond.
"The response from Auburn students, faculty, alumni and many others throughout east Alabama and across the state has been absolutely phenomenal. I think everyone understands this is a big moment for our community. It has been incredibly exciting to see the anticipation continue to build, as we approach our inaugural season." CEG