Chapin construction shuffles event venues

An extensive building and fire code upgrade project in Chapin Hall, started in June and expected to finish at the end of November, has left the building unusable over the summer and through most of the fall semester. The project is currently on schedule, and the main auditorium is expected to reopen for use on or around Dec. 1. 

Bruce Decoteau, Facilities’ senior project manager, explained what exactly the construction project entails. “We are installing a fire protection [sprinkler] system, replacing all the mechanical

Additionally, “interior storm windows will be installed for acoustic and thermal improvements,” Decoteau said, “and the attic space will be insulated to make the building more energy efficient. The mechanical rooms will be reconfigured to fit the new equipment and provide better sound separation.”

The stage extension currently used in Chapin was also a major reason that Facilities decided to undergo this construction project. The Williamstown Department of Inspection Services granted continued use of the stage extension with the condition that the College perform these code upgrades, Decoteau explained. “If the upgrades were not completed by the end of this year, we would not have been able to continue using the stage extension going forward,” he said.

Chapin Hall, a pillar of the College’s architectural tableau, will reopen on or around Dec. 1.
Chapin Hall, a pillar of the College’s architectural tableau, will reopen on or around Dec. 1.

“The stage extension was a major add on to the historic stage at Chapin,” said Steve Klass, vice president for campus life. “We’d been using it so long, you wouldn’t even know it was an extension. In fact, we couldn’t do a huge portion of things we do on the stage without the extension.

While the practice rooms in the basement of Chapin are currently open, the music department has had to relocate several major performances that would normally have taken place in Chapin’s main auditorium. Of the seven performances that have had to be moved, four will take place in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance and three will be held in held in Thompson Memorial Chapel, according to Jenny Dewar, outgoing concert and event manager.

Although Dewar recently departed her position as concert and event manager, the music department has hired her to “manage the logistical puzzle of moving all those displaced concerts around as well as look at the overall picture the rehearsals that normally take place in Chapin,” according to Dewar. As for the future, Dewar explained that the renovation of Chapin will only affect performances insofar as the noise from the old heater will no longer interfere.

Several lectures will also now be held in the ’62 Center, including Thursday’s sold-out Noam Chomsky event. Additionally, MIDWEEKMUSIC, a weekly lunch event normally held in Chapin, has been temporarily moved to the performance space in Greylock Hall.

The music department did not have to decrease the number of performances this semester as a result of the closure. However, Dewar cited audience capacity as one possible issue with the several venue changes. Chapin seats over 900 people, while the ’62 Center’s MainStage has a maximum capacity of 550, said Cosmo Catalano, the theatre department’s production manager. The MainStage’s capacity has already proved to be a concern, as mandatory First Days events for first-years – customarily held in Chapin – were all moved to the MainStage this year.

“With careful planning from the deans’ office, we were able to get the whole first-year class into the MainStage, with JAs and other dignitaries seated on the stage,” Catalano said.

In addition, the ’62 Center requires ticket reservations for many of its events, which may be a surprise for audience members long accustomed to the ticketless seating in Chapin.

Klass attested to the smooth process of renovation. “When you get into a historic building, you never know if it will work out, and it has worked out spectacularly so far,” Klass said.

Still, many involved with music at the College are ready to move back into their beloved home. “The department is marching on despite the necessary closure of Chapin,” Dewar said, “but everyone is very much looking forward to having it back in our fold!”