Peabody ready for tune-up

Expansion: Officials at the conservatory prepare a renovation that won't interfere with concerts or classes.


September 10, 2001|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

At the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the most important of the five senses is sound.

So before administrators could launch a $24 million renovation and expansion of Peabody's Mount Vernon campus, they had to figure out how to keep construction noise to a minimum, so it wouldn't interfere with classes and concerts.

Their solution was to complete construction in phases so the noisiest work is completed during the summer, holidays and other periods when classes aren't in session. They're also limiting the hours and locations of construction activity during the academic year so it's tolerable to those on campus.

The Johns Hopkins University, of which Peabody is a division, has assigned a full-time senior project manager, Jennifer Dawson, to coordinate work on Peabody's campus until construction is complete.

"There are two methodologies you can use," said Peabody director Robert Sirota. "You can use the Chinese water torture method, where a little bit at a time goes on, for a very long time. Or you can do the punch-in-the-mouth method, where everything happens all at once. We're trying to find a happy medium."

The renovation is designed to upgrade and expand Peabody facilities throughout the block bounded by Charles, Center and St. Paul streets and Mount Vernon Place. A key element is the reopening of the original grand entrance at 17 Mount Vernon Place, and construction of an arcade that will link different buildings on campus. Peabody also will gain new classrooms, practice studios, faculty offices, a theater and lecture hall, box office, piano repair workshop and other spaces.

Designed by Quinn Evans Architects of Washington and Ann Arbor, Mich., the project began this summer and will take two years to complete. Peabody and Hopkins officials will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at 11 a.m. on Sept. 19 to mark the start of construction. The event includes the official opening of a Project Information Center at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place.

Sirota said the fastest way to finish construction would be to close the institute for a year and renovate everything at once. But since that isn't practical, Peabody divided the work into phases to make construction more manageable. "The idea was to create areas of disruption to the physical plant, but not to have everything being worked on at the same time," he said.

Peabody hired Gilbane Building Co. to be the construction manager, Sirota said, in large part because of its experience with complicated projects of this sort.

Factors that complicate the project even more are the age of the buildings, which date from the late 1800s, and conditions that may not be well documented in drawings, such as the absence of lintels under windows, or the thickness of walls in which openings are being created. In some cases, walls are up to three feet thick, as opposed to the eight-inch or 12-inch thickness of walls built today.

"The added intrigue in this is that these buildings haven't been opened since 1872, in some instances, and we're dealing with hazardous materials such as lead paint and asbestos," Dawson said. "Every time we open a wall, we find something new."

Gilbane is working closely with the architects and others on Peabody's team to uncover information that can help avoid delays later, she said. "If we can get a handle on as much of this as possible, it's'going to help us considerably."

Peabody's long operating hours also affect the staging of construction.

"One of the biggest things Gilbane has to realize is it's not a typical institution," because of nighttime performances and students living on the same block, Dawson said.

As a result, "you don't schedule certain things late in the day. You schedule them early in the morning. ... It's a complete reversal of the mentality of most construction. We have to think differently and more thoroughly about how we schedule the work."

The phases include:

June 2001 to September 2001: Constructing connections between buildings, creating a new loading dock off Centre Street and ramped access off Mount Vernon Place.

January 2002 to August 2002: Building new practice rooms and utility rooms and a 100-seat experimental theater.

June 2002 to December 2003: Building the main arcade off Mount Vernon Place, renovating East Hall for use as a dedicated rehearsal hall, building elevators and percussion suites, creating administrative areas and upgrading air-conditioning systems in the Peabody Library.

June 2003 to December 2003: Constructing a mid-block pavilion and gallery, modifying Friedberg Hall and completing the new main entrance off Mount Vernon Place.

One advantage of completing work in phases, Sirota said, is that certain areas will be available for use before the entire project is complete. For example, eight new practice rooms will be ready about halfway through construction.

Peabody will post signs to tell concertgoers how to find their way from the parking garage to the site of each performance, Dawson said. The Institute will do all it can to complete the work without canceling any concerts at Friedberg Hall.

One area that will be affected by construction is the Peabody Library, which is leased out for catered events. Dawson said those events will have to be curtailed for six months to a year, starting in September of 2002, while new air handling equipment is installed.

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