Williamson Auditorium closed for renovations

For the first time since its 1975 opening, the Wendy Williamson Auditorium is getting an interior facelift.

Some renovations have already been completed, but the next phase will close the building for two months.

“(The Williamson) has never had new seats, from ‘75 until now,” said Shane Mitchell, the auditorium’s building manager. “For years, there were surplus seats that we could cannibalize parts from and stuff, but these seats aren’t even made anymore.”

The new seats will be a complete upgrade from the ones in the auditorium now.

“Instead of being spring-loaded, (the new seats) are going to be gravity-loaded, so that the moment you leave them, they’ll pop back up,” said Mitchell. “They’re going to be higher, so they’ll be more comfortable, and they’ll be two inches wider. They’ll have power sources and Internet jacks, and it’ll be very cool.”

When asked why the seats required extra features, Mitchell explained that more than just plays and comedians happened in the auditorium.

“An overwhelming number of the events here are lectures, where people want to take notes, so being able to plug in your laptop and take notes, you know. We’re also starting to have more conferences here,” he said.

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Changing out the Williamson’s seats will be more involved than simply unbolting the 910 seats and bolting in new ones, however.

“They have to take all of these seats out. The good news is that all of the seats are being recycled, but then they have to literally take every bolt out,” said Mitchell. “Then they’ll completely resurface all of the concrete with a wear-resistant paint, and then the seats get installed. So it’s a massive undertaking.”

The budget for the renovations is roughly $500,000, which comes from the UAA facilities, planning and construction department’s overall budget.

“For the most part, it comes from what we receive annually from the capital budget monies for the repair, renovation and deferred maintenance of facilities throughout the campus,” said John Faunce, director of the facilities, planning and construction department. “That comes from the legislature and governor. That’s state capital funding.”

Faunce said the renovation is a small portion of the overall facilities maintenance budget, which is small in comparison to the need.

“This year (the maintenance budget) is roughly $9 million,” he said. “We need a lot more than that. We have 60 buildings throughout campus, and many of them are 30 to 40 years old or 40 to 50 years old.”

While the Williamson will be out of commission from Nov. 16 through Jan.14 it won’t lose much revenue. All but one of the events typically scheduled during that timeframe have been rescheduled to either before or after the renovation period. The one that could not be rescheduled has been rebooked at another venue.

Despite the auditorium being closed, the lobby and green room will be open to rentals during renovations.

Renovations completed over the summer include new lighting in the lobby and auditorium, as well as new carpeting throughout the lobby and auditorium stairs.

“One of the impetuses for the renovation is that we wanted to be more sustainable, so we replaced all of the lights in the lobby and the house lights with LEDs, fluorescents, things that burn less power,” said Mitchell. “The output is also greater. We get 30 percent more light and only burn 60 percent as much energy as we used to.”

The intelligent lighting in the lobby turns off when sensors indicate that the light outside equals the amount of lighting that would be produced inside. This will save money during daylight hours, especially in the summer, when there is more of it.

“They’re steps to make the Williamson a more sustainable place,” said Mitchell.

According to Mitchell, the renovations won’t be completely finished when the auditorium reopens in January.

“Next year the idea is to completely repaint, so that within a two-year period, it’s going to be a brand new Williamson.”