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The music center that has come to define a large part of Sonoma State University President Ruben Armi?na's 18-year tenure broke ground almost exactly a decade ago.

But not until Saturday did the Green Music Center hold the first performance for the general public, including students, in its landmark concert hall.

Originally intended to be a premier performing arts center funded solely by private donors, it has cost taxpayers about $45 million in California State University funds and education bond monies for construction projects.

Since its groundbreaking, projected costs have grown more than tenfold, to about $120 million.

Over that time, supporters, including a roster of North Coast philanthropists, have maintained that when done, the center will put SSU and Sonoma County on the nation's cultural map.

University officials also say Green Center fundraising efforts have spurred more gifts to a wide spectrum of other academic programs — and will continue to do so.

"It has brought a lot of donors who wouldn't have been attracted to this university otherwise, and who actually have interests that extend beyond music," said Jeff Langley, artistic director for SSU's performing arts departments.

"This is going to be the gift that keeps on giving," he said.

Armi?na says the center will be a "symbol of excellence in public education in California and for bridging community to campus."

It will be "a world-class, superb destination for the musical arts and a gathering place for our educational offerings," he said last week.

But from its earliest days, the center became what has remained an enduring point of friction between Armi?na and a chorus of his critics on SSU's faculty.

Those critics agree the center almost assuredly will be the top-shelf facility that Armi?na and other supporters promise. But they say it has diverted money and attention from the university's academic mission.

"The whole thing escalated out of control," said Steve Orlick, a professor of environmental studies and planning.

"The campus priorities have been skewed away from the academic program and toward the music building. It's been a runaway ego thing," he said.

He and others say SSU's development office, focused for 10 years on raising money for the Green Center, has shortchanged other areas of the campus, particularly academics.

"That's the main issue," said history professor Bob Karslrud, dean emeritus of the school of social sciences.

Even its most ardent supporters say that, given the amount of attention the music center has received, that's an understandable perception.

Langley, for example, calls the center a "miracle." But he also said: "Because of the scope of this thing, I think it has consumed the primary efforts of the development office, and that is unfortunate to a large degree."

Photography professor Stephen Galloway says in the "long run," the music center will take the university to a new level and "has the potential for changing the relationship between the university and the local community."

Still, he said, while development staff have worked hard, and with some success, to forge ties with donors that would benefit his art and art history department, "I certainly got the impression that the office was primarily occupied right now with the music center."

Top university officials don't deny that the development office concentrates on raising money for the center.

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"It's a main focus," said Patricia McNeill, an SSU vice president who heads the office.

But they say the numbers clearly refute the criticism that other areas of the school have suffered as a result.

<NO1><NO>"The endowment, <NO1><NO>none of it, zero, not a penny goes to construction of projects, it's all associated with scholarships and programs," said Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, SSU's chief financial officer.

The endowment is a fund for which the development office raises money; it is managed by SSU's Academic Foundation and supports student scholarships and the university's academic programs.

In the decade since the Green Center broke ground, the endowment has about doubled, from $17 million to $30million.

"To suggest that the development efforts here have favored Green as opposed to scholarships and programs just isn't borne out by the data," Furukawa-Schlereth said.

In fact, said McNeill, over the past 10 years, considerably more has been raised for other programs than for the center.

According to a summary of development office records that she provided, of $85 million in gifts to the university since 2000, $41 million has gone to the music center. The other $47.5 million was for other areas of the university, chiefly academic programs and schools.

The Green Center's critics say they have seen nothing to convince them of that.

"That's preposterous, I don't believe it," said Orlick. "I'd like to see a listing of everything in both categories."

McNeill said her office could not provide a detailed breakdown of gifts to the university that were for<NO1><NO> purposes other than the Green Center, because over the years they have been recorded differently on different database systems. But over the decade they have included:

-- $4.3 million for the Computer Engineering and Science Program;

-- $2.2 million for the Osher Lifelong Learning Program;

-- $300,000 for the Jewish Studies Program;

-- $2.5 million for the Native American Studies Program;

-- $800,000 for the Wine Business Institute.

Also, McNeill's summary showed that $7 million has been given to SSU over the decade for student scholarships.

Still, even McNeill conceded that years of focusing on the Green Center has delayed other initiatives.

"It's time for this project to be done," she said. "I want to complete the Green Music Center so we can move on from this to the things that I really came here to do, which is to do a comprehensive campaign for the entire university."

The music center was birthed in 1997, envisioned as a choral hall to be funded by a $5million gift from Telecom Valley pioneer Donald Green.

Nine months later, Armi?na announced a further $5 million matching grant from the Greens. And he proposed a year-round amphitheater for conferences, symphonic performances and jazz and chamber music performances. It should, he suggested, be modeled on the famous Tanglewood music center in western Massachusetts.

By 1998, the vision was for a larger concert hall costing $22million. A year later, the projected cost was $47 million and the facility was to house SSU's music department; it was to include classrooms, practice rooms, recording facilities and a recital hall, a restaurant and banquet facilities.

Today much of the building is open. The first public event went forward Saturday in the concert hall — which still lacks permanent chairs; they have been paid for and are being made, at a cost of $2.5 million in state education bond funds.

The classrooms and practice rooms are in use, and the hospitality center is up and running. The restaurant is being used for special events, though it's not open on a daily basis yet.

And music critics have pronounced the center a project of "major promise."

Former San Francisco Chronicle critic and UCBerkeley lecturer [NEWS_00]</BL>Robert Commanday[/NEWS_00] in February called it "a much more important project with a greater potential and mission than even its supporters may envision."

But that vision is still not fully realized.

The 250-seat recital hall remains but a shell surrounding a dirt floor, and $6 million is needed to complete it. There is no recording studio. The concert hall, too, needs $6 million more to complete its lobby, restrooms and back-stage facilities for performers.

As of this summer, according to Furukuwa-Schlereth, the school needed to raise $30 million more to finish the center.

"It's very frustrating," said history professor Kathleen Noonan. "Thirty million more, it makes your head spin, especially when you're in a situation where you can't even offer the basic kinds of support to students and faculty."

She said that faculty members often lack classroom materials such as whiteboard markers and classroom wireless Internet access, and that no financial aid is available to her department's graduate students.

Armi?na said that swings in the economy and construction costs have contributed to the delays and climbing price tag. But he said he understands the frustration — and shares it.

"It has kept me awake many nights," he said.

In the end, he said, the center will be as appreciated as SSU's high-tech library, the 10-year-old Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center, which is widely considered one of the university's highlights.

Asked what place the center will have in his legacy, Armi?na said: "It is part of a vision of transformation and excellence for this university where performance and education come together for our students, faculty and community."

For now, among the school's roughly 120 music students, the center prompts a mix of opinions.

"It's invaluable really," said junior Paul Coker, 20, a music major. "This is really top of the line for us musicians."

But another third-year music major said the building — though handsome — falls short.

There are too few practice rooms and offices that could be used for practicing aren't soundproof, requiring students to use Ives Hall, where the department had been located, said the student, who asked not to be named because she didn't want to upset her teachers.

"They didn't think of us when they built it," she said.

Langley acknowledged that the student's complaint is on target.

"That's one of the things I wish had been addressed," he said. "But we originally hadn't expected the music department to be located here."

Otherwise, though, Langley is convinced that the center gives SSU a unique standing.

"Students attending a California State University, a public university, are getting facilities that rank with anything Juilliard would have," he said, referring to the prestigious New York performing arts conservatory.

"The performing arts are always the last one to get anything in these places, I mean, What gets cut first? It's the arts," he said. "I can't feel guilty about the fact that at this university, the arts kind of scored."

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