On Friday, March 14, six bats in the performance center of Mason Hall interrupted the Jazz Festival before even half the concert was finished.
Students preparing for the festival first discovered the bats on Thursday night, and notified JSU’s Physical Plant. According to the plant’s Assistant Director, David Thompson, JSU’s maintenance and upkeep division had personnel walking the building the next day to determine where the pests were coming from.
The presence of the bats continued over the weekend, when a choir being held Sunday night was also interrupted by the swooping pests. Thompson said a pest removal company has been contacted to remove the bats as well as seal any outside openings they could be entering through. That work will be done on Monday.
In the meantime, the bats continue to come and go as they please. The nuisance sparked a renewed examination of Mason Hall and the startling conditions that plague it.
Many JSU students and faculty in the music department have been dealing with less than satisfactory conditions in the aged building for years. Zack Davis, President of the JSU chapter of Phi Mu Alpha, has recently begun organizing efforts to raise awareness of the building’s dire need of maintenance to sustain a healthy learning environment.
On Monday, March 17, he and Caleb McFall, another student who attends class in Mason Hall, presented their case to the Student Senate, who decided to send SGA President Jade Wagner and SGA Vice President Brett Johnson to investigate on the following day.
The sound of many instruments playing out of sync penetrates rooms in Mason Hall, which should be soundproof. This creates a permeating din, and leaves visitors with the notion that the building may not have been meant to house a music program as big as the one at JSU. But the lack of soundproofing isn’t the only evidence of this.
Many classes are too big for the rooms which are meant to hold them, and often students must stand for the duration. On at least one occasion, Dr. Nathan Wight even held his class outside for lack of room inside. JSU’s Music Department draws students from all around based on its history and tradition alone, but the facilities provided to it cannot accommodate so many new students.
In addition, many expensive instruments sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity are in danger of sustaining damage without specialized air conditioning. Instruments such as pianos can no longer be properly tuned and paint cracks and falls away. This is in spite of a $1,650,776 HVAC renovation project completed by the Physical Plant in 2009.
Two old elevators of questionable safety are used daily by some students, but many choose to avoid them completely. One elevator shakes and sometimes doesn’t open when it reaches its destination. An out-of-date operating license is displayed ominously above the buttons.
Assistant Director Thompson says that the renovation project completed in 2009 was a “band-aid fix at best.” The project replaced the heating and air system, as well as made a few minor improvements, like creating storage spaces and renovating the practice room. “We addressed the underlying concerns that would allow us to continue to use the building in the hopes that we could perform further improvements in the future,” Thompson said.
The performance center, now referred to as “the bat cave” by students, has become too small to hold concerts. Most of the time, the Music Department’s bands hold their concerts in Oxford, where people must pay to attend. Concerts held in the performance center have been free to attend. While the Leone Cole Auditorium is open to these bands, it doesn’t have the equipment necessary to host them. Much of the equipment is too large to move.
The sound panels in the ceiling of the performance center were not installed by the university, but are makeshift and hung by professors themselves. “Mason Hall performance center is completely outdated and acoustically inappropriate, among other things,” says Thompson. There are middle schools that have better performance centers than the one in Mason Hall. “So it starts with, everyone understands that they need several different things: they need a performance center, a recital hall. They need a nice atrium entrance to those facilities, plus a new administrative suite.”
The hall’s computer room holds at least twenty Dells which run Windows Vista, but only three of them work on a regular basis. The keyboards (instruments) have been around since the 90s. There are leaks in the roof, holes in the floor, and broom closets full of instruments that have no other place to be stored.
Despite the large draw the Music Department represents, it has continued to be underfunded and underdeveloped. Davis says it’s embarrassing to hear music students from other universities visit and proclaim, “I’m glad I didn’t choose JSU.” Potential students may decide all too easily to attend other schools with much better accommodations. When artists come to perform and are confronted with the deterioration of Mason Hall, it affects the professional appearance of JSU as a whole.
Jade Wagner, President of the SGA, says that she will work with the students of Mason Hall to organize forums and funding opportunities for the department so that their complaints will be heard and remedied. She encourages all students with complaints to attend SGA meetings and bring them before the Student Senate. Brett Johnson, Vice President of the SGA, said, “If I was a potential recruit, I’d say no.” He intends to help Mason Hall find upgrades to their technology in the classroom.
According to Thompson, Mason Hall is “number one” on the Physical Plant’s deferred maintenance list, but those projects must be approved by university administrators before they can be completed.
Dr. Andrew Nevala, Director of Jazz Studies, said, “The people here are devoted, but the facility is an embarrassment.” The students and faculty stay because they love the program and a department already rich in tradition, and they are willing to work through the troubling conditions every day. He continues, “It’s like we’re treading water. If one thing goes wrong then we’re sunk. That’s exactly what happened on Friday.”