July 14, 2004

SIUC School of Music begins Altgeld move-in

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Ladders lined the hallways of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's newly refurbished Altgeld Hall. Construction dust and debris littered the floors. Battalions of work crews bustled around every corner.

Monday, June 28, marked the beginning of what could take up to three months as the school's faculty and staff -- and pianos -- shift from the "temporary" quarters they've occupied since 2001 into 56,000 square feet specifically attuned to the space, sound and temperature needs of working musicians.It was move-in day for School of Music Director Robert L. Weiss.

"I'm on a day-to-day basis with telephone and custodial services as to what we can move into," said Weiss.

"But in spite of everything, the physical plant staff has been just fantastic in trying to accommodate us. And we've been in such dismal conditions for so long that coming into this building is a treat."

Built in 1896, Altgeld Hall was last revamped in 1958 when the former library/laboratory/gymnasium and bowling alley got, among other improvements, choir rehearsal space, 25 soundproofed practice rooms, restrooms and cool air.

Despite those tweaks, Altgeld fit the music school like someone else's old used shoe. A huge post dominated the center of the choir hall. The soundproofed rooms were noisy. And don't get Weiss started on the basement.

"It wasn't really usable, though we had percussion students practicing there between the water pipes and the heating ducts," he said.

Those days are gone. The brand-new choir room, housed in Altgeld's 20,000-square-foot addition, has built-in risers and acoustical curtains as well as the suspended ceiling "clouds" that deaden noise in all major rehearsal rooms and the hallways. And while percussion students still will practice in the basement, they'll do so in a room with a soaring ceiling, 18-inch thick walls and a set of mirrors that will allow the students to perfect their drum line stance and prance.

But that's not all. Altgeld's 21st-century improvements include a new opera/music theater rehearsal room with a wooden floor and mirrored walls, a sound booth and recording studio attached to the band and orchestra rehearsal rooms, small and medium-sized practice spaces, class and seminar rooms, three musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) laboratories for computer music composition, an instrument repair area, 300 built-in lockers for instrument storage, and a student lounge.

"This is as nice a facility as you would find at a school our size anyplace in the nation," Weiss said.

Weiss walked down the new corridor to the reconfigured administrative suite. He still has the same corner office he used to occupy -- there's just a little more of it. He has nicer carpet and an extra window, though, and some of the finishing touches have yet to be finished. He walked to the phone jack and plugged in the phone, and picked up the receiver. Dial tone. It was music to his ears.