OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s Tyler Hall will undergo a $22.2 million rejuvenation starting this summer, welcoming campus and community about a year and a half later to a more approachable, flexible and high-tech home for the performing and fine arts.
Work will include a fully accessible Waterman Theatre with modern seating, lighting, sound and multimedia; a two-story music rehearsal hall doubling as a new venue for small performances; facade improvements that include two inviting new entrances at the building’s eastern corners, leading to a spacious and welcoming lobby; an expanded box office, new elevator, larger and more flexible Tyler Art Gallery; a digital media lab and a recording studio; and a host of environmentally friendly improvements to the building’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other systems, from lower level to roof.
That comprises Phase 1 of a three-phase master plan to revitalize the 46-year-old Tyler Hall and nearby Hewitt Union as an arts district and long-planned home of the college’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts.
“There’s still a lot to do in Tyler,” said Fritz Messere, SCMA dean and a key liaison articulating arts needs and ideas to Pfeiffer Partners Architects and their engineering, acoustics and other consultants. “But this first phase really sets the stage by completely renovating the mechanicals, by reconfiguring the entrances and lobby area giving students and the public a place to congregate, and it gives music students a place to rehearse and perform, and students in art, art history and museum studies a better place to study and display their works.”
Bette & Cring, a Latham contractor with an office in Watertown, was the apparent low bidder Feb. 5 to bring to life the SUNY Construction Fund-financed project. The company has done higher education construction projects at University at Albany, Albany College of Pharmacy, SUNY Adirondack, SUNYIT and Hudson Valley Community College, among others.
During the renovation period for the 81,500-square-foot Tyler Hall, the SUNY Oswego art, music and theatre departments and the Artswego Performing Arts Series will offer exhibitions and performances in alternate campus and community locations — using the temporary dislocation as an opportunity to explore new ways of engaging audiences.
“We like the motto adopted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as they face a similar situation,” said SCMA Associate Dean Julie Pretzat. “Closed for construction, but more open than ever!”
Artswego director John Shaffer also expressed excitement about possibilities that have arisen during the search for alternate venues. For example, he said, negotiations are in progress with a Brooklyn-based dance company for the creation of a site-specific performance at a city park or historical site.
“The temporary loss of Waterman Theatre and Tyler Art Gallery can be a time of festive exploration for the campus and community with surprises and lasting benefits for both,” Shaffer said.
Messere said classroom and lab theatre modernization and many other improvements in Tyler would need to await Phase 2 funding.
The money for phases 2 and 3 of the project remain to be allocated in the state’s capital plan.
“My goal is to move all of communication studies and graphic design into a new, reimagined Hewitt Union, and to have an arts precinct or an arts district that combines visual communication, multimedia communication and the fine arts together in one place,” the dean said.
Road to renewal
Tom LaMere, the college’s director of planning and design, said he’s hopeful Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s capital plan could accommodate the remaining work on Tyler and Hewitt a couple of years from now. In the meantime, he said that at any given point in time during Tyler’s Phase 1 renovation there could be up to 60 workers employed in various trades.
Messere expressed particular excitement about the music rehearsal hall, something the college has never before had.
“The rehearsal hall has been designed in a very striking manner, so it’s going to look very interesting as well,” he said. “It’s really going be to a kind of showplace in some ways, and I think that’s going to encourage students who want to study music to come to Oswego.”