The basement of the James W. Black Music Center was remodeled for VCU Facilities Management storage at the beginning of this semester, leaving music students who are desperate for more practice space questioning when the need will be addressed.
Brian Ohlinger, associate vice president of Facilities Management, said the finished project under the music center helps connect facilities management with the Monroe Park and MCV campuses. Ohlinger said the basement is mostly open space, with a chain-link fence separating storage areas. There is also an office separated with regular walls. Ohlinger said the project cost about $230,000.
Ohlinger said Facilities Management did not want to use the space for students because of its location.
“It’s not an appropriate space for an academic environment,” Ohlinger said. “We never want to put academic programs in a basement.”
Nathan Hay, violinist and third-year music performance major, said most students who watched the construction hoped it would be used for music purposes, and were not bothered by the fact the space was a basement. Many music rehearsals already take place in the basement of the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing arts, which is across the street from the James W. Black Music Center.
About 300 students enrolled as music majors share 13 soundproof practice modules, and 10 teaching rooms which could be used as practice spaces during the times they are not used for music classes. For access to the soundproof rooms, students have to fill out an application online. However, practice rooms can be used by music minors or students who have registered for applied lessons. Four practice rooms are specifically designated for percussion practice and are not available for use by other students.
Emily Thomas, violinist and third-year music education major, said not being able to find a practice room in the building is a common experience.
“There have definitely been times where I have resorted to using the stairwell or practicing outside,” Thomas said.
Hay said he practices at least two hours a day. When he first attended VCU, Hay lived farther away from campus and relied on the practice rooms. Hay said he had difficulty finding a practice room six out of the seven days of the week.
“I would try and somehow look at my music, but it would be more like forcing myself to produce something to do,” Hay said. “It’s like ‘OK, I wanted to practice, but I can’t now because there’s nowhere to practice.’”
Scot Mitchell, a freshman trumpeter and music education major, said he adjusts his practice to the times when the rooms will most likely be available.
“Good times, for me, are really early in the morning or really late at night,” Mitchell said.
Thomas said she occasionally uses her apartment as a practice space, but it is not the best setting for long hours of continuous focus.
“Sometimes I feel like I am more productive in an environment that’s designed for practicing, instead of my room which has distractions,” Thomas said.
As of now, student have no way of telling beforehand when the teaching rooms are reserved for classes. Thomas said a simple solution to the shortage of practice rooms would be posting an updated schedule for the teaching areas.
“There’s no schedule for anything on the doors,” Thomas said. “You never know if you’re going to practice for 10 minutes and then get kicked out.”
Thomas said wherever there is a practice room, she will use it.
“I know that real estate is in short supply in Richmond,” Thomas said. “But we deserve more space to develop and expand our department.”