Helena Okoilcsanyi, Broadside Correspondent

Walk through the Performing Arts Building any day and one thing is clear: rehearsal space is scant. As the George Mason Symphony rehearses, there is barely enough room for musicians to play their instruments without bumping into each other. Move to the dance rehearsal studios and the same is evident. Every department has outgrown their space and everyone is suffering.

“The rooms are so crowded, especially the ensemble rehearsal rooms, [and] it feels almost like a fire hazard when you’ve got all these students rehearsing for all of these events,” said Dr. Linda Monson, associate director for the School of Music, and professor of keyboard studies.

Officials at Mason have listened and the PAB is currently being expanded. The construction of the building has been a long time coming, says Dan Hobson, production manager for the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Mason. The new construction “was brought about by a huge need from all the departments for more space to teach and work on their craft,” he said. Hobson said that the new space will “include two dance studios, a percussion studio, a large band room, two classrooms and a wellness center for injuries, primarily spurred by dance . . . but also available for those who mess up in stage combat, or if they have repetitive motion injuries.” The band room was designed to fit 250 marching band members or a 100-piece orchestra with 150 singers.

Currently, the dance studios are used from 8:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. while other classes are also taught in the Johnson Center. The space is being used all the time, but it still does not meet all of the needs of the dance instructors and students. With the expansion, classes will not be so crunched and more sections of courses can be taught.

Although there have been major construction projects on campus, such as the new Engineering Building and new dormitories, expanding the performing arts space is more involved, more specific and more difficult. Each rehearsal space demands its own requirements.

For the band room, the acoustics are going to be “quite a bit better than the one currently,” said Hobson, with curtains that one can draw selectively to make things brighter or tone things down; pulling the curtains on all four walls deadens the sound. For dance, the floor needs to be large enough for the dancers to move freely and have enough cushion for the dancers’ pounding feet.

The difficulty with the expansion has been the requirements for each rehearsal space. Unlike academic classrooms, the requirements needed for each music and dance space are specific. For music, acoustics have to be determined, as well as what equipment needs to go in and out of the room. For dance, the floor needs to be specific and have enough room for the dancers to move.

“It’s not like when the math department says ‘We need five more classrooms,’” Hobson stated.

However, despite the inconvenience, Hobson thinks the expansion shows that the administration understands “that the arts are different.” Overwhelmingly, the support from the Mason administration has been positive.

“From the President’s office on down, I honestly feel, people believe in the performing arts here,” said Hobson. “They see the quality, they believe in our students and our faculty, they see the good that this does for the community at large,” added Monson. “We’re at a great place at a great time.”

Many students are unsure of what is going on with the PAB, though. “Mere inconvenience is the main issue students have at the moment,” said Yevgeniy Dovgalyuk, a music master candidate in violin performance. “They took away practice rooms, so now we can’t find practice rooms or space to rehearse. The teachers are using practice rooms as their studios since they took away the classrooms.”

Despite the current inconvenience, people have been waiting for this building for years. The process to get the project approved, and sequentially the money, took several years. Many of the projects currently underway at the university were in the process of approval before the economic downturn. Despite the financial crunch, the building is still set to open in late June or August and be able to hold classes for the 2010 fall semester.