Main KU music auditorium needs facelift

The state of Swarthout Recital Hall embarrasses faculty, students and Kansas University.

That’s the opinion of School of Music Dean Robert Walzel and others.

Serving as the main music performance auditorium on KU’s Lawrence campus for the past 56 years, the building has seen the wear and tear of tens of thousands of performances — it hosts about 350 recitals a year — as well as an estimated 1 million users during its tenure.

“We’re holding it together with chewing gum and bailing wire,” he said. “It’s just one Band-Aid after another.”

Walzel said the roof leaks, the equipment is outdated, lighting’s a nightmare and don’t get him started on springs sticking out of the seating.

“You could cut your skin and get tetanus or something,” he said.

The building needs a face-lift; think “Auditorium: Extreme Makeover Edition.”

“What we want to do is take it down to the cinder blocks and completely remake it,” Walzel said.

With the state strapped for cash, public funds are out of the question. That’s why Walzel, KU Endowment and donors have begun working to raise the $1.5 million necessary for repairs from the private sector.

The upgrade list is long and extensive: a new ceiling, seats, stage, sound equipment and pianos.

Walzel said the upgrades would improve the ability to serve the community, as well as record events and stream them across the country. The hope is that the end product will be fitting of one of the top music schools in the Big 12 with a master’s program that ranks 12th among public institutions, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

“It’s definitely needed,” said KU School of Music graduate Erin Tomkins, who has both performed and worked in Swarthout. “In terms of performing there, it’s a nice stage, but what I didn’t like about it was that it looks crappy.”

Walzel said improvements should also help with recruiting for the music school because incoming students could judge the program by the state of its auditorium.

According to KU Endowment, repairs should keep the auditorium up to snuff for the next 25 years and help it serve another 1 million eventgoers.

Improving the auditorium “is our most critical need,” Walzel said.