Demolishing, construction workers tear down walls in the Art and Design Building on Friday for a larger printmaking studio.

In December, the proposed budget for the new Art and Design Building project had some renovations of its own.

Project manager Amy Tongay, of Trivers Associates, called in an expert industrial hygienist to review the safety features of the new facility. The consultation resulted in an additional $1.6 million in safety improvements to the original building proposal of $14.3 million.

During the design process, teachers and students were interviewed and there were concerns. As a result, Tongay called in independent consultant Monona Rossol, founder and president of Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety Inc. This nonprofit organization is based in New York and specializes in the safe construction and abidance to federal and state codes and practices of art facilities, museums and theatres.

“[The hygienist] intensively critiqued processes, the type of chemicals used and what type of safety procedures were in place. We worked with her to implement increased ventilation, which is much more sophisticated than your standard building,” Tongay said.

In confined spaces where chemicals are being used during processes, like in the photography dark rooms, Tongay said specialty vents are a crucial implementation on the counters rather than overhead. This allows for the chemical fumes to be drawn out of the room away from people’s faces.

Rossol’s evaluation resulted in the decision to not use certain chemicals and have additional safety education for faculty, staff and students. Moreover, spaces have been provided for the safe storage of tools and materials, as well as all the appropriate flammable, chemical cabinets and cleaning hands and eye stations.

“One of the innovative design points we will be achieving with this project is using [resources such as] LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, along the lines of green initiatives, and we made our own credit up for containment of art-related materials,” Tongay said. “So we are being very cautious that nothing can go down a drain accidentally, so there is containment and collection of tainted wastewater.”

In addition to evaluating facilities and other skills, Rossol also carries out Occupational Health and Safety Administration inspections and leads workshops on formal hazard communication training as required by OSHA and other state agencies. Her suggestions were based on insuring the safety of the art students and others accessing the building.

“Many universities plan a normal building for art when it should be a facility designed for light industry. It needs special safety equipment and ventilation for the toxic solvents, dust and fumes created,” Rossol said. “Art making is the process of using toxic materials to create a product. SIUE understood this.”

Assistant Vice Chancellor Richard Walker echoed the concerns for student safety. According to Walker, the new Art and Design Building will accomplish three main goals: to combine all the arts in one area, provide a gallery and maintain the safety of students.

“We are installing ventilation on all of the cleaning stations and the drying racks because of the solvents and acids used for different artistic effects,” Walker said.

Walker said, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees’ report, that the new construction (phase 1) is funded out of the University Plant Fund and the renovation (phase 2) will be funded from Facilities Fee revenues.

Sophomore art major Nicola Batista, of Wood River, is happy the university is taking the additional safety precautions.

“Its a big deal to most of the art students, especially when you spend 12 hours straight in the building,” Batista said. “You spend most of your life in that building, in the rooms doing your work.”

Batista said the consolidation of the arts will be a much needed improvement and hopes the additional space allows for more or bigger classes. 

“Because of the small classes, it is hard for art majors to get their core classes, and that can push them back a year,” Batista said.

Tongay said this summer the construction team is working diligently on getting the 29,000-square foot addition completed by this August that will house drawing, painting, art history, art education, a new auditorium, a new gallery and associated grad spaces and offices. The northern part of the building will be reconfigured for an enhanced photography area, enhanced graphics area, cage, the printmaking space, the woodshop and the new critique spaces.

“We are expanding all the studios and making an opportunity to have more permeability, so you can see the welding and the glass studio and throwing pots in the ceramic studio, introducing more lights and permeability into the space,” Tongay said.

The northern portion of the Art and Design Building renovation is expected to be complete, barring any construction issues, by the end of this summer and the southern portion of the 47,000 square foot renovation by next summer. The goal with the renovation is to not displace studios and critique spaces for more than a semester because unlike the less hands on areas of the Art and Design Department the studios and critiques spaces, with the specialized equipment, cannot be replicated elsewhere on campus.

“Instead of having an open critique area, we are giving more designated critique spaces in the renovated building because it has never really functioned well for them to have open critiques. They need more privacy, instead of constantly dealing with passersby coming in and out of the building. So, that is one of the corrections we were making to the existing renovation and a large, brand new gallery will be in the new building also,” Tongay said. “So the need to have such a gigantic entrance lobby would be wasted space, so, in an event to meet their current concepts, that is being reconfigured.”

Concerning this main front entrance of the current Art and Design Building renovation area, Tongay said the construction workers are being given more time due to the need for reconfiguration of the masonry, concrete and structuring involved.

“That was a little more labor intensive,” Tongay said. “They will have until next Christmas to complete the current renovation entrance…to give the metal shop more space.”

According to graphic design professor Barbara Nwacha, the administration highly values safety for faculty and students. Nwacha said she will not form any expectations until faculty and staff are able to work within the new areas.

 “The Art and Design Department has needed more room to be able to provide quality arts education to SIUE students since the original building was constructed. The expansion of the Art and Design Building will bring all facets of the Art and Design Department together in one location,” Nwacha said. “Currently art history, art therapy and art education are housed and taught in Alumni Hall.”

Effective July 1, Nwacha will be chair of the Art and Design Department.

“More of our teaching and presentation spaces will be outfitted with smart classroom technology,” Nwacha said. “Safety has been addressed for some of our more industrial areas to better serve our students.”

According to Tongay, the materials procurement process is an intense one considering the large volume of specialized industrial equipment and tools that will need to be transferred into the new space like the kilns, hydraulic presses and wood and metal shop bench stations.

“The contractor mobilized a week or so ago,” Tongay said. “They are hitting it hard. The idea was to preorder everything so they can be installing [equipment] during the construction period and not waiting for equipment and supplies to arrive.”

The upcoming renovated building and addition will not only act as a functional space, but also attract creative individuals to work without the limiting concern for safety issues.

“Emphasis on safety is especially appropriate for university art departments. Their objective is not to produce art, but to educate budding artists,” Rossol said. “To make art, SIUE art school graduates must be alive and well. I don’t think art should take casualties.”

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