Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki has scrapped high-profile plans for a 10,000-seat outdoor pavilion project at the campus’ Green Music Center, a move she framed as a bid to save money better spent on academic programs and the needs of students and faculty.
Sakaki said she decided to halt the project, which was put in motion by the university’s previous administration, after consulting with a range of stakeholders, including student and faculty leadership and the California State University Chancellor’s Office. She determined the $145 million music center’s existing facilities were sufficient and the campus did not need the pavilion, which she said would have cost roughly $10.6 million to build.
Sakaki, who took over as president of the Rohnert Park campus in July, called the move “the most important, difficult decision I’ve made since I assumed the presidency.”
“The concern was, as we look at what our students need — what the campus needs — in terms of focusing on student success and improving our graduation rate, and making sure that, academically, we have the faculty that we need to teach the classes to get students through, to offer the support services and student support services that we need to be successful, we really had to take a hard look at our priorities,” Sakaki said.
The decision is consistent with the academics- and student-focused agenda Sakaki has rolled out since she took the helm of the university.
Envisioned as an expansive outdoor amphitheater on the Green Music Center’s eastern side, the pavilion had backing from MasterCard and was intended to offer space for events that couldn’t fit inside the 1,400-seat Weill Hall and adjoining lawn, which has space for an additional 4,000 people.
Groundwork on the area, near Petaluma Hill Boulevard, had begun but was halted. Recently, crews have begun restoring the area as an open lawn.
MasterCard pledged $6 million for the project, but Sakaki said that money would not have come until after the facility was built and the university would still be responsible for operating costs.
The MasterCard money has not been forfeited and the university’s discussions with the company are ongoing, according to Sakaki. She did not divulge specifics but said the university was looking to partner with MasterCard in other ways. The company is the title sponsor of an annual performance series at the Green Music Center, which begins its 2016-17 season Saturday.
Sakaki’s decision to drop the pavilion project — first reported by the Sonoma State Star student newspaper — represents an about-face from a vision advanced by the administration of her predecessor, longtime SSU president Ruben Armiñana. Sakaki declined to say whether she consulted with Armiñana prior to making her call. She described her decision-making process as “really thorough and consultative.”
Armiñana could not be reached Thursday and Friday for comment. One of his top officials, Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, the recently departed vice president of administration and finance, voiced disappointment the project had been canceled. At Sonoma State, Furukawa-Schlereth also served as co-executive director of the Green Music Center. He said no one from the current administration consulted him about the decision.
Yet faculty have embraced the move, according to Ben Ford, a mathematics professor and chair of the university’s Academic Senate. Ford said Sakaki told the Academic Senate of her decision about the pavilion at a meeting in September.