Students voice disappointment with recently announced McCain renovations

Students and professors cover instrument lockers with tarp in McCain Auditorium to prevent damage from ceiling leaks during rain on April 26, 2016. (Courtesy photo by Meredith Neuer)

Two weeks after the announcement of a $6 million McCain Lobby Expansion Project by the Kansas State University Foundation, students in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance continue to voice their concerns about inferior student-use facilities.

The expansion project plans to extend the McCain Auditorium lobby by adding a new box office, donor lounge, technical director suite and administrative office. It would also provide more service spaces like restrooms and concessions.

“My initial reaction was a bit of surprise and a bit of disappointment, just having been in the McCain building and the McCain classroom side for the past three years and knowing all the things that are wrong or have issues on that side; and that this was given a priority,” Madison Hines, junior in music education, said. “Most of us don’t use the McCain performance side on a regular basis.”

Another student, Anna Featherston, junior in music education, shared an account of mixed emotions, too.

“I was happy for the building to be getting updates, but like other students I was concerned about it taking away from the need for real updates, like things that are actually broken,” Featherston said about the April 16 announcement.

She said there are leaky ceilings all over the student-centered side of McCain, and it is a regular occurrence for doors to break. Featherston said she frequently finds splinters from classroom benches as well.

“The feeling is pretty mutual around all the students,” Featherston said. “We’re all just kind of ticked at the system, I guess is how you could say that. Everybody just kind of agrees that the student side of McCain gets pushed off to the side, and nobody is that concerned besides our own staff. The rest of the university doesn’t seem to be too concerned about what’s going on and even how our building needs updates.”

A request for comment by the Kansas State University Foundation was declined.

Director for the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, Jeff Ward, said he recognizes the program would utilize a dedicated recital hall, and there is a need for improved practice rooms.

“We don’t have the means to fix that at a school level,” Ward said. “That has to be at a broader university basis.”

As for maintenance issues, Ward said their financial situation does not allow them to fix everything.

“We have to repair on a case-by-case basis,” Ward said.

On April 25, the School of Music, Theatre and Dance facilitated a town hall meeting about McCain facilities. Ward sat on the meeting’s panel along with Todd Holmberg, McCain’s executive director; Linda Cook, K-State’s chief of staff and director of community relations; and Amit Chakrabarti, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Hines, who was a 2018 assistant drum major for the Kansas State Marching Band, attended the meeting to join other students in expressing concerns.

There, Chakrabarti shared some additional plans for facility improvements, related to spaces used by bands. The plans, however, are not finalized or fully-funded at this time. They could include updates to the World War I Memorial Stadium and an expansion of indoor band rehearsal space in McCain 201. The feasibility of the plan continues to be studied, Chakrabarti said.

“That was a very exciting announcement to hear,” Hines said. “I had heard that might be a possibility, and that was something Dr. [Frank] Tracz was really working toward and hoping to be able to expand. So, to hear that that is in the works and in the final stages of approval is really exciting. I think it will be a great benefit to the band side of the music program.”

Hines said she thought the timing of the announcement was fine.

“I know I’ve heard from some of my peers that they were not content,” she said. “Giving our concerns with McCain, it was like something they were going to give us so we would stop talking.”

Even with her excitement for Chakrabarti’s announcement, Hines said she and other students will keep talking.

“We are going to continue to express our grievances with the classroom side and the need to renovate it and make improvements, because probably one of the reasons that people having been giving to the McCain performance side is that they really appreciate and utilize it,” she said. “Assuming the people that give to the McCain performance side are supporters of the arts, they may not have known about the condition of the McCain classrooms. A lot of people don’t go in it unless you are a music student or have classes.”

Considering the future of the arts programs, Hines said she is motivated to initiate progress for students behind her, especially as orchestra, choir and band programs all continue to climb in numbers.

“They deserve quality rehearsal spaces too,” she said. “A lot of us who attended that town hall meeting and who are fighting for these new changes and for improvements, they will not happen during our time. So, I think it says a lot that so many of us are coming forward, because we really are wanting to improve this not for ourselves, but for the future students.”

For student recruitment, Ward helps with visits, especially during the summer, and he said the facilities are always a concern. He also said his mantra related to the issue is students attend K-State to learn from the people and faculty on campus, not because of the facilities.

“Our students come here in spite of the facilities,” Ward said.

Featherston, a second-generation music education student at K-State, echoes Ward’s comments from a student viewpoint.

“Even though our facilities aren’t the greatest, we’re aware going into that, and it’s OK because we like the professors, and we like the people,” Featherston said. “But it would be nice to have things that made school life a little easier.”

Ward said he is glad students are expressing their opinions and catching the attention of people beyond the school.

“I really appreciate the thoughtfulness our students are applying to this issue,” he said. “It’s a continuing conversation.”