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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