Sonoma State University's Green Music Center edged closer to completion this month, as the first shipments of custom chairs, costing a total of $1.2 million, arrived at the center's 1,400-seat concert hall.
By Wednesday, nearly half of the chairs had been installed on the first floor of Weill Hall, named after Joan and Sandy Weill, philanthropists who donated $12 million in March for the completion of the center.
The long-awaited chairs, which were ordered more than a year ago, mark a tipping point toward completion of the $120 million center, which has been plagued by delays and rising costs since fundraising began in 1997 with a $10 million donation from philanthropists Don and Maureen Green.
"The delay was actually a good thing," said Christopher Dinno, SSU's senior director for facilities management and capital planning, design and construction. "I was able to bring in consultants who really understood the chairs."
The concert hall is modeled after Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. The care given to the chairs is the latest manifestation of what supporters have said will be one of the world's finest performing arts venues when it opens in the fall of next year.
The custom, wood chairs - made of European steamed beech with built-in, burgundy cushions — are expected to be completely installed by the end of August, Dinno said.
Theatre Solutions of Philadelphia, which specializes in fixed seating, was the main contractor. The 200-year-old Fancher Chair Co. of Jamestown. N.Y. fabricated the chairs, which are put together with wood mortise and tenon joints.
The university secured $2.5 million in early 2010 for the chairs — plus the theatrical lighting and audio system — from California State University educational bond monies, Dinno said.
The chairs are built in eight different styles, some singly, others in sets of two or three. The styles include a slanted chair for the raked ground floor, illuminated chairs for the aisles and high chairs for the second-row balcony.
The built-in cushions offer three layers of foam of different densities, Dinno said. For lumbar support, the slatted, wooden backs of the chairs are curved both horizontally and vertically.
"The seat cushions alone went through two tests of eight different styles, or 16 total tests," Dinno said. "We have a seat that's going to last, from an aesthetic and a comfort point of view."
To accommodate the sensitive acoustics of the hall, the flip-up seats boast quiet hinges, made with a special ball-bearing and spring-hinge system.
Once the chairs are installed, the hall can be fine-tuned in preparation for its opening. During the fine-tuning process, musical groups such as the Santa Rosa Symphony will perform in the hall while the acoustician adjusts the fabric drapes with baffles inside them.
"We'll test the different settings for different configurations," Dinno said. "For a jazz artist like trumpeter Chris Botti, you might want to deaden the room."
In addition to concerts by the Santa Rosa Symphony — the hall's orchestra-in-residence — SSU has hired well-known impresario Robert Cole, former executive director of of Cal Performances in Berkeley, to help book a dozen or so headliners during the opening season of "Green Music Center Presents."
The final touches to the interior of the hall - the theatrical lighting and the audio system - are expected to be completed by Spring 2012.