U.Va. Band Program Finds a Home in Hunter Smith Building

August 16, 2011

Between now and December, nine buildings – comprising nearly 350,000 square feet – will open for business at the University of Virginia, ranging from new construction to renovations to additions. In an occasional series, UVA Today will profile each of the new additions to the Grounds.

August 15, 2011 — The sound-reflecting angled walls and wavy roof are impressive. The double-insulated windows overlooking the railroad tracks catch the eye. But what really sticks with you is the tuba tub.

"We have the only tuba tub that I have ever known of," said James Kelley, project manager for the University of Virginia's new Hunter Smith Band Building. "We've created a tuba tub facility."

This modified bathtub, installed in the main floor locker room to provide first-rate flushing capability for large brass instruments, is one of many novel features to be found in the newly constructed band building at 180 Culbreth Road.

Three levels of rehearsal halls, practice rooms, instrument and uniform storage and offices make up this bright, streamlined building that will host the Cavalier Marching Band, as well as the basketball band, the Olympic sports ensemble, the wind ensemble and the concert band.

The $12.7 million project, designed by William Rawn Associates, was made possible by a gift from Hunter Smith, the building's namesake. Smith is a longtime supporter of the U.Va. band program, having jointly given $1.5 million with her late husband, Carl W. Smith, in 2003 to help start the marching band program.

Band director William Pease said he and Smith became friends over the past eight years, during which time Smith met many of the students and discussed with Pease the band's evolving needs. "I think she was interested in trying to help these students who have given so much to the University and give them a home," Pease said.

Abby Heider, a veteran drum major and fourth-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences and Curry School of Education, said she is thrilled to see the project finished in time for her last active year in the band program. "I'm so grateful for everything Hunter Smith has done for us. My college experience would be totally different if not for her generosity," she said.

The building addresses a need for musicians at the University. Previously, the marching band had occupied temporary spaces in University Hall, far from its Carr's Hill Field practice area, and had no viable indoor practice space on rainy days, said Richard Will, who chairs the College's McIntire Department of Music. The new building gives the band a centralized location up the hill from Carr's Hill Field, and overlooking the original football field next to the Lambeth student apartments.

Additionally, the extra space in the Hunter Smith building should help ease the demand for rehearsal time for small ensembles at the music department's Old Cabell Hall home.

In a band program with 280 marching members and 60-student ensembles, "There are a lot of students who are benefitting from this," Will said. "I think that the building will probably transform the whole department by bringing a real world-class facility online and simply providing more space and more flexibility for the students of the department and the faculty."

Between appearances at athletic events, concerts and community service events, the band program averages between 90 and 100 performances a year between August and Memorial Day, Pease said. In addition to concerts and rehearsals, he anticipates the building will be used for classes, receptions, awards banquets, tailgates and pep rallies.

Aesthetically, the building has much to offer. Built in 16 months on a "postage stamp" space in a hillside between Culbreth Road and the railroad tracks, the Hunter Smith Band Building's interior is a compilation of blue stone, hardwood and glass. Said Kelley, "For a band building, the finishes inside are exceptional. Function is No. 1, but the appointments in the building go above and beyond what you expect."

Pease said only a handful of college marching bands across the country have their own building, generally those with long-established programs like Michigan, Florida and Ohio State. Pease and Smith examined these facilities and modified their designs to make them fit in with the architecture of the Grounds and the needs of the University student population.

Outside, the Jeffersonian brick and roof structure mirrors that of its neighbor Ruffin Hall and links the Smith Building to its neighbors on what's become known as the Arts Grounds. The building represents part of the University's arts master plan, which will also include the new Ruth Caplin Thrust Theatre, slated for completion in March.

Will said the building will "for the first time give music a presence on the Arts Grounds." He said he is hopeful that there will eventually be a new companion building on the Arts Grounds to house the rest of the music department.

A large portion of the band program does not major in music. (Representing almost 2 percent of the University population, the marching band includes 70 students from the School of Engineering and Applied Science alone.) Pease wanted to make sure the band building felt like a place students could go after class to do homework, see their friends and let off steam.

Nick Vallorano, a drum major and fourth-year McIntire School of Commerce student, said he appreciates that the building will give the marching band a home for students to hang out and do work. "It is so much more than just a marching band rehearsal hall," he said. "The band – we view ourselves as a family, and I'm excited that we're moving into our new home."

The students' excitement over the building stems in part from their early involvement with the project. In October, several hundred students and alumni came out to sign a beam that would go in the topmost part of the building roof, giving them a piece of the legacy.

"It's been very emotional to have seen this grow and become this spectacular facility," Pease said. "It's exceeded all my expectations."

The marching band began using the building Aug. 11 A dedication ceremony will take place Sept. 2, the day before the first home football game.

— By Kate Colwell

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Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications