NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Progress continues on the much-anticipated renovation and expansion of the Griffith Fine Arts Building on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus with an estimated mid-2023 completion date just under a year away.
University and construction officials remain optimistic that current deadlines can be met, and that the building will be ready for occupancy prior to the start of the 2023-24 academic year, as planned.
As the project moves forward, spaces within the outwardly visible exterior walls are becoming more defined as the state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, offices, studios and theatres that designers and fine arts faculty and staff had envisioned, according to Dr. Gary Wurtz, dean of the Micky Elliott College of Fine Arts.
“Not that long ago, I would look out my window at the deep, muddy pool that had been placed between the Griffith Fine Arts Building and College Street, and all I could think was ‘what a mess,’” Wurtz said. “Now, I walk through the building, and the progress is stunning. Most of the spaces are framed out, and you get a true perspective of the scope of the project, and you realize that SFA is fully committed to supporting the fine arts and fine arts education. That is a spectacular feeling.”
The Fine Arts Expansion Initiative is extending the Griffith building along North Street. The project includes renovations to W.M. Turner Auditorium, and the building will also feature two dance studios, two new theatres, recording studio, sound stage, audio and video editing rooms, an art gallery, multiple classrooms, rehearsal facilities, faculty offices and the offices of the College of Fine Arts dean. The facilities will house the ECFA’s sound recording technology, filmmaking, theatre, dance and musical theatre programs.
Jessica DeWitt, assistant director of construction for the SFA Physical Plant and Griffith project manager, said that despite initial delays pertaining to weather and supply chain issues, the project remains on course.
“To everyone’s credit, the project is still on track for its original completion dates and is expected to deliver all of the exciting new spaces as originally intended,” DeWitt said. “We are looking at a March 2023 construction completion date followed by an extensive move-in period. Following a summer move-in, the building is expected to open for classes in Fall 2023.”
DeWitt credited project management teams – KDW, Kirksey Architecture, Project Control, Physical Plant, SFA Design Center and ECFA staff – for working tirelessly over the last year to stay on top of schedule milestones and ahead of potential risks to maintain momentum.
“However, I believe the toughest challenges are in front of us,” she said. “Last year was about specifications and selections that avoided hard-to-get materials. This year, there are pieces of equipment that are not available or manufacturers simply will not commit to making available by building opening. We are leaning hard on the flexibility I referenced last year, putting our heads together, reaching out to our sources, and tackling these issues every day.”
Over the next year, the project management team will be “busy as ever,” but the results will be hard to see from the outside, DeWitt said.
“Passersby now see an almost fully constructed new building and exterior improvements underway,” she said. “The visual presence of large equipment and workers onsite is waning. However, this is not cause for concern, because more work than ever is ongoing inside the building.”