Adorned in hard-hats, Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo and Gov. Lincoln Chafee raised their sledge hammers at the ground-breaking ceremony last week to mark the start of construction of the college’s latest project – a new Art Center.
“There are few events that take place that are as joyful as a ground breaking,” Carriuolo said, pink sledgehammer in hand.
Carriuolo referred to Chafee as a “friend of the college,” because he visited and toured RIC prior to being elected in 2010 and saw how desperately the college’s facilities needed renovations.
“I knew [Carriuolo] had the best faculty and the best students,” said Chafee, explaining that the only thing missing was having good facilities. “With great pride I’m here to pick up the sledge hammer and change it.”
“We’re waiting for everyone to show up and speechify,” said Stephen Fisher, a printmaking professor and the project’s liaison, before the ceremony started. “I know the president was running around looking for a sledge hammer.”
In attendance for the pompous event included the RIC administration, Bill Martin, Art Department director, James Montford, Bannister Gallery director, and alumni, eager students and art professors involved in the project. The staff from Design Partnership of Cambridge – the architectural firm for the project – attended the ceremony, as well.
Also in attendance were Student Community Government, Inc. President-Elect Kyla Pecchia and Vice President-Elect Hillary Costa. SCG played a fundamental role in spreading the word about voting yes on the referendum back in 2010.
In November 2010 the project was approved by voters in Rhode Island. The $17 million project is the largest bond ever given to RIC.
“It will be a much better facility for what we do,” said Martin. “It will be really terrific to have classrooms and studios built for what we do in the building.”
The Art Center is more than deserving of a renovation, as it is one of the original six buildings on campus. Designed in 1956, the building was originally used as a library, student union and dining center. At the time, art classes were scattered around campus and students could only minor in art. The building was eventually “recycled” over a five-year period to become the Art Center that it is now.
In the 1970s RIC’s art program boomed, and in 1978 RIC became one of three colleges in the state to be accredited by the NESDAD (the others being Salve Regina University and the Rhode Island School of Design). Currently there are about 300 students in the art program.
“We have exceptional faculty,” said Carriuolo. “Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the building.”
John deMelim, one of the oldest alumni in attendance, was one of only three faculty members who taught art when the program was widely spread out across the campus. He explained that he taught ceramics in a maintenance shed. As he watched the program grow and move into the new Art Center that it is now, he was also responsible for creating the graphic design program that many students major in today.
“I’m delighted about the new building as it was a challenge teaching in the space that was randomly picked up,” said deMelim.“It was amazing to see how it grew.”
“In my first semester and my first art class, the building was in terrible condition and it was so cold,” said Esther Laflamme, junior graphic design major. “We would all wear our winter coats for a three-hour long class and still shiver. It got to the point where I would set my paints out and they would freeze so I actually couldn’t work in the art center.”
A television was also set up at the event and showed student artwork on a slide show.
“This is exciting and beautiful artwork,” said Chafee. “We look forward to seeing more artwork with the new building [constructed].”
“The students will benefit from up-to-date studios, it will be a much better work environment for what they do. The students have always made really good work in spite of what the building has been, and we look forward to more of that,” said Martin.
The first phase is expected to be completed by January 2013, with the second and final phase to be finished no later than January 2014. During the course of construction, classes will be held in Whipple Hall, in Building 2 on the East Campus and in the existing art building where work is not taking place. The state-of-the-art facility will include increased square footage with a second level, along with a newly designed interior and exterior.
“Everyone is working very hard to make that time frame because it is a two-phase construction,” said Martin. “They need to clear everyone out of the south end of the building by relocating them into the new north end, they have to move everyone out to continue phase 2 of project. Everyone is working hard to meet that deadline.”
According to Bill Gearheart, vice president for administration and finance, “the project is on schedule and the currently timeline to completion.”