Rhode Island votes ‘Yes on 1’ in support of $107.3 million for public higher education

Approval of Question 1 means $57.3 million for URI Fine Arts Center

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862 |
Fine Arts Center
Rendering of the west corner of the Fine Arts Center after rehabilitation. (Media: KMW Architecture & Brewster Thornton Group)

KINGSTON, R.I.– March 3, 2021 – Rhode Island voters from across the state approved bond Question 1, which will provide $107.3 million for major renovation projects at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island.

Of that total, $57.3 million is slated for continuing upgrades to URI’s Fine Arts Center.

The higher education bond issue was one of seven bond questions being considered by voters in a special election that wrapped up Tuesday night. With just over 100,000 votes cast, the measure was approved in 29 of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns, garnering more than 59,000 votes and winning by a margin of 17.8 percentage points (58.9 to 41.1%).

“Thank you to Rhode Island voters for their approval of Question 1 and their support of Rhode Island’s public higher education institutions,” URI President David M. Dooley said. “I can’t emphasize enough to our friends across the state how much this means to our community as we continue to build a university equipped for the 21st century and that provides the best possible facilities for all of our students.

“Approval of Question 1 means our art, music and theater students and faculty members will have bright, highly functional and creative spaces in which to teach, learn and perform,” the president continued. “It has become clear to us during this pandemic that the inability to enjoy the arts as a community has left a deep void. The arts enrich, challenge and entertain us. We invite all Rhode Islanders to enjoy one of our many plays, concerts and exhibits when this greatly improved facility opens.”

Jen Riley, dean of URI’s College of Arts and Sciences, the academic home of the art, music and theater departments, said she is deeply grateful to the state for its support.

“In an emphatic way, you have said to our students, faculty and staff that you value what they do, and that you enjoy the wonderful creativity that they bring to our community,” Riley said. “Our art, music and theater students already pour their hearts and souls into their work, and I can only imagine what this facility will do for their morale and creative spirits. Again Rhode Island, thank you.”

A distinctively squat-looking building, the Fine Arts Center, designed in the blocky, monolithic Brutalist style, opened in 1968, and is home to URI’s theatre, music and art departments, which serve more than 5,000 students each year. Over the years, the building has seen little change, other than a conversion to gas heat and the installation of a fire protection system. Built above a swamp, there have been constant water issues – flooding, chronic leaks, mold – over the years.

In the last three years, the University has improved drainage, which has remedied problems with flooding, leaks and mold. Some exterior walls have received brick façades, and roofs, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems have been upgraded.

URI Board of Trustees Chair Margo Cook expressed her thanks to Rhode Island voters and looked ahead to the long-awaited transformation of the building and what it will mean for those who teach and study under its roof as well as the larger community.

“The University of Rhode Island’s Board of Trustees has been eagerly awaiting the transformation of the Fine Arts Center to reflect the incredible talent and creativity of URI’s students, faculty, and staff. The Board has great pride in the success of the creative community that is educated at the University. We thank Rhode Island voters for their commitment to the arts and cultural experiences that these facilities will support for generations of students,” said Cook.

The additional work funded by the newly approved bond issue calls for tearing down five of the center’s 10 pods and constructing an 82,000-square-foot academic building to house the music and art departments. Work is expected to start in summer 2022 and take about two years, creating an estimated 647 construction industry-related jobs.

The building will feature a new lobby in front of the Robert E. Will Theatre, the department’s largest stage; improved access to J-Studio, the smaller black box theater; updated restrooms to serve the large number of patrons who attend theater productions; and two new modern acting classrooms.

For the Art and Art History Department, the bond funding will mean updated studios and classrooms with improved lighting, and new technical areas for digital art, graphic design, and a range of photographic and video-related media.

The Music Department will see major changes, too – new classrooms, practice rooms, faculty studios, recording studios, and a suite for the new music therapy program, in which clients will receive music therapy as students in the program observe, similar to a clinical setting.

The Fine Arts Center, which hosts scores of attractions each year, including five mainstage plays, more than 100 concerts, eight main gallery shows and smaller exhibits brings more than 50,000 visitors to the Kingston Campus.

“These new spaces will welcome guests and students into a new era of the arts and will continue our reputation for exceptional arts education,” says David Howard, chair of URI Theatre. “In a sense, I think the new building will reflect the beauty and vibrancy of the art that is happening inside in a way the old building never has.”