University News

Former Gate space remains vacant, awaiting renovation

Despite lack of concrete plans, Alumnae Hall basement will likely become new student space

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, March 17, 2014

Alumnae Hall, which formerly housed the Gate in the basement, is not up to current building and fire regulations, and must undergo renovation before a new usable space is created.

Since Andrews Commons opened at the beginning of this semester, the space in the basement of Alumnae Hall — previously home to the Gate — has stood vacant, with no immediate plans for renovation.

“We’re not at the point where we’re determining what’s next,” said Stephen Maiorisi, vice president for facilities management.

“Once a decision is made, it would take a year to design and a year or two to build,” Maiorisi said, adding that a decision may not be made for over a year.

Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, said the Alumnae Hall basement will most likely become a space for students, not administrators. She cited the University’s goal of transferring administrative offices to the Jewelry District outlined in President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, “Building on Distinction.”

The necessity of complying with state and federal regulations complicates any potential renovations.

Built in 1927, Alumnae Hall does not meet the standards of either the Rhode Island Fire Safety Code or the Americans with Disabilities Act, Maiorisi said, adding that Alumnae Hall was grandfathered into fire safety regulations because of its age. But in the aftermath of the Station nightclub fire, Rhode Island removed the grandfather exemption in 2005, so the building must meet fire code for any future renovation, he said.

One of these regulations that must be met includes upgraded sprinkler systems. “From 2005 to 2009, we spent over $30 million upgrading sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems in dormitories,” Maiorisi said of the University’s response to the new code, adding that many other buildings have also been updated.

Alumnae Hall is among the few buildings on campus lacking a sprinkler system, so officers from the Department of Public Safety or the fire department must be present for any large event, Maiorisi said.

Future renovations would also have to add an interior elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

Some students have formulated their own ideas about the best use of the basement space.

“It would be really cool to have a venue — a version of the Underground that’s more set up for student performance,” said Isaac Berkowitz ’14, chair of the Alumnae Hall Advisory Board, an umbrella organization for student performance groups that use the hall, including Brown Opera Productions, Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan and several dance groups.

Berkowitz emphasized the need for more student performance space, particularly dance studios and spaces amenable to sets.

After Andrews Commons was converted into an eatery, luncheons and other functions previously held there are now often held in Alumnae Hall, Berkowitz said.

As a result, Brown Opera Productions recently missed a day of rehearsal during tech week for the Students of Caribbean Ancestry Ebony Soiree in Alumnae Hall, Berkowitz said. The use of Alumnae Hall for University events also limits student performances to the stage, preventing productions from a theater in the round format, he said.

“With the taking of Andrews, we knew there would be more pressure on Alumnae,” Maiorisi said, adding that the University recognizes the need for more space, and a performing arts space is an option for the Alumnae Hall basement.

These spaces may be created as part of the strategic plan, which calls for “new or renovated space for academic needs in the creative and performing arts” in its section “The Built Environment.”

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