A recently completed major renovation project has brought Worcester State’s 1960s-era Sullivan Auditorium into the 21st century.
The auditorium is used frequently by the campus community as a classroom, lecture hall, and performance space, but also serves the greater Worcester community for various activities.
The venue was not compliant with accessibility standards, which made it difficult for people with mobility challenges to enter the building, navigate their way to the stage or even locate an accessible bathroom in the venue.
Renovations included adding an accessible entryway, accessible bathrooms and two gender-neutral bathrooms. The steep grade from the foyer to the stage was addressed by building a ramping system along the right side of the auditorium. This new access corridor allows for stage access from the house seating in a fully compliant manner. Seating capacity in Sullivan is now about 768 and there is a new loose seating area to accommodate mobility-device users and their companions.
The renovation project aimed to meet all accessibility standards. Almost all projects involving older buildings require going before the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board to seek one or more exemptions from code requirements, but the architects at Lamoureux Pagano Associates deftly managed to create a fully compliant design, according to Sandra Olson, assistant vice president for facilities- operations and planning.
“They did an absolutely fantastic job in figuring out how we could meet every code requirement for accessibility standards,” she said.
Additional renovations included modernizing the foyer, upgrading the lighting and sound systems, adding technology to assist people with hearing challenges, refurbishing the backstage green rooms, and improving the overall acoustical performance and the general aesthetics of the auditorium.
“The new theatrical lighting and sound systems will contribute to a vastly improved theater and class lecture experience,” Olson said. “To achieve that, when we designed the venue we worked with Academic Affairs, so Visual and Performing Arts was part of the process, and we also worked with IT and CESO (Conference & Events Services Office) because it was not only important to make the site accessible, but it also had to have multi-use flexibility to meet the needs of all the various groups that use the facility.”
Olson gave credit to Bob Daniels, director of environmental, health and safety, and Peter Fenuccio, director of facilities – operations and planning, for overseeing the day-to-day work for the extensive project, which involved stripping the auditorium down to its concrete base and then rebuilding it. “We all worked together on this,” she said. “It wasn’t a singular effort, that’s for sure.”
Fenuccio said the project relied on Olson’s vision for a state-of-the-art venue. “I hope when everyone goes in there remembering what it used to look like and what it looks like now, they’ll see a drastic change,” he said. “That actually goes toward Sandy (Olson) and her vision of what she wanted designed and her vision for the campus. I just took what she wanted done and got it built.”
The project cost a little over $7 million with the state contributing about 55 percent, according to Olson. The money represents a sound investment in an era of declining college enrollments, she said.
“When you bring in potential students and do programming in a beautiful space like this it’s a good selling point,” she said. “We have some amazing academic programs and amazing faculty and our facilities should match these academic standards by providing clean, well-kept, and updated spaces for our current and future students. So, that’s what we in Facilities do to help with admissions because we all need to be working towards enrollment right now.”
Photos by John Cannon
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