By Sam Haas, city editor
A multi-story music building, complete with a public café, innovative theater space and extensive music library, is under construction near the corner of St. Botolph and Gainsborough Streets.
Work is in progress on the New England Conservatory (NEC)’s Student Life and Performance Center (SLPC). The $85 million facility – more than $62 million of which has already been funded through donations – will house dormitories, a dining hall, performance spaces, a library and multiple practice rooms of varying sizes.
The building is intended to provide conservatory students with additional access to services they need in a way that strengthens their community, according to Carol Phelan, vice president of marketing and communications for NEC.
“We feel we have an extraordinary campus among students here, but we feel they somewhat have to find it themselves,” Phelan said. “They find and nurture each other in spite of not having great gathering space, so we wanted to provide the space to make that stronger.”
Construction began this spring after the NEC Board of Trustees gave final approval, according to a press release from Feb. 25. Work is scheduled to conclude in the fall of 2017, coinciding with the institution’s 150-year anniversary.
The SLPC is the first new construction at the school since 1959. Currently, the NEC campus spans four buildings clustered around the area where the SLPC is being built.
“The Student Life and Performance Center will transform the life of NEC students, faculty, staff and the community,” Kennett Burnes, chair of the NEC board of trustees, said in the press release. “This is a dynamic moment in time for NEC.”
Through multiple years of master planning sessions, administrators, professors and students made it clear they wanted to expand NEC, according to Phelan.
“Desperation for more space was the primary motivation,” Phelan said.
However, the school has no plans to increase its enrollment beyond the current 750-student population. Instead, 252 new beds in the residential part of the SLPC will allow more students to live on campus instead of elsewhere in the city.
The SLPC will also feature several types of practice and performance rooms. In addition to individual and small ensemble spots, there will be a full orchestra rehearsal space and a combined opera studio and black-box theater that will be adaptable to different performance types.
“[The new space] has had a really galvanizing effect on everyone,” Phelan said. “I think it’s because there will be more production opportunity… A black box gives particularly the jazz and opera departments a lot more flexibility.”
Local musicians and community members will likely have some access to the new building – possibly via the dining facilities that will be located on the SLPC’s first floor – although those details have yet to be determined, according to Phelan.
NEC students expressed mixed feelings about the potential benefits of the SLPC.
“Students are excited to ambivalent [about the new building],” Katie Martucci, a senior student in the school’s contemporary improvisation program, said. “We do need more facilities and practice rooms.”
Martucci added that she was often forced to practice in lobbies and hallways when official spaces were full.
However, she expressed doubt that the additional residential space was necessary.
“You only are guaranteed to live here freshman year. I guess some people choose to live in dorms after that, but the dorms are pretty [bad],” Martucci said.
Echoing Martucci, first-year graduate student Ethan Lobenstine said the lack of available practice rooms negatively impacts the student body. Improvements would be welcome, he said, though the SLPC won’t open while he’s still at the conservatory.
“Practice space is very, very tight,” Lobenstine said. “That they are going to be adding practice rooms in the new building, that will be something to look forward to.”
Ultimately, though, Lobenstine expressed confidence the SLPC would be a boon for students.
“I think the building is going to do great things in terms of expanding what NEC students have access to,” Lobenstine said.
Photo courtesy Ana Beha Architects and Gensler & Associates