SUB Ballroom renovation replaces 80s drab with modern upgrade

Students returning from a quiet break found the SUB anything but peaceful as workers demolished walls and ceilings in the now-gutted ballrooms.

The renovation – the first major work on the ballrooms since the early 1980s – was approved by the Montana Board of Regents in March 2014. Funding for the $2.7 million project comes from MSU’s revenue-generating arms (such as dining halls and the SUB itself), students’ building fees and up to $1.8 million in loans.

The ballrooms were marred by incessant heavy use over the decades. As tiles cracked and years passed, it became difficult to replace them with the same tile. “There was about five different colors of tile,” Butch Damberger, SUB director, said. After being moved thousands of times, the partition walls were “pretty worn-out” too. The aesthetics of the old facilities were unpleasant and “very institutional-looking” according to Damberger. The HVAC system was a constant complaint from users – the temperature was entirely impossible to control. “It has long needed a makeover,” Damberger said.

Damberger continued to explain that beyond a cosmetic facelift, the ballrooms will be entirely reconfigured. While Ballroom D was bigger than B and C, it has been underutilized due to its distal location. Ballrooms B, C and D will become the same size (2,175 square feet) and orientation and will also be carpeted. Ballroom A will grow from 5,306 to 6,750 square feet.

Since the SUB is one of the the busiest venues on campus, used for over 1,000 events every year, there’s no good time to remodel. Winter break was chosen as the best time to begin the work due to the high volume of events in the summer. A year ago, SUB administration visited with the impacted groups who would have been using the venue. Some events, like MSU Friday, moved to another venue while others pushed back until after the renovation. Still others decided to cancel altogether. The International Food Bazaar, which needs the kitchens in the SUB, decided to cancel their event for this year rather than attempt to move or reschedule. The organizers intend to hold the event in the ballrooms next spring.

The total revamp will include new floors, new portable walls, new audio/video equipment, all new heating and air and a new storage area. “There is nothing that was in the ballroom before that is staying,” Damberger said. The new space should be more comfortable for the students, faculty, staff and public that will be using it. As part of the remodel, the SUB is purchasing 1,700 new banquet-style chairs that will be both more sightly and comfortable than the current selection, which included 600 padded chairs purchased from the prison 20 years ago, and 500 metal chairs that “were probably 30 years old,” he said.

But not only will it be comfortable, it will be cutting-edge. “It’s going to be as up-to-date as possible,” he explained. With more floor electrical outlets, more data access points, two digital projection screens on either side of the stage, and cameras that make it easy for everyone to see the speaker, Damberger believes the new Ballroom A will be an impressive addition to MSU. “I’m very confident that this will be the most advanced technology meeting space in the state of Montana when we’re done,” he said.

Though work just started in mid-December, the renovation team has set a lofty completion goal near the end of March. “It’s a pretty aggressive schedule,” Damberger said. With events booked for the last week of March, beginning on the 23, “we really don’t have a recourse” should the project take longer than planned. With commencement and many other activities clustered at the end of the semester taking up venues across campus, “it needs to be completed.” However, Damberger appears confident that the renovation will finish on time without incident. The general contractor, Swank Construction, knows the deadlines. “They’ve spoken with us,” Damberger explained. “If they need to put in some overtime or work some weekends to keep on schedule, they’re willing to do so.”

Damberger said the renovation will make the university more accessible and provide a more professional venue for its events. And while the remodel will benefit all users, Damberger argues that this is most beneficial to students. Student organizations, he said, “are our primary user of the space.”