Like a missing puzzle piece restored, Northern Arizona University’s new School of Music facility fits snugly between the Performing and Fine Arts building and Ardrey Auditorium, creating new spaces and passageways for performers and audience members alike, including the 255-seat, state-of-the-art Kitt Recital Hall.
The $15 million, 26,863-square-foot facility will open next weekend with a series of performances after approximately 19 months of construction.
On Friday, Jan. 18, pianist Jeffrey Swann, the President’s Distinguished Artist in Residence, will perform at 6 p.m. The NAU Faculty Chamber Players will take the stage Saturday at 7:30 p.m., followed by a student showcase Sunday at 3 p.m. All events are ticketed. Public seats for Swann’s opening day performance are available for purchase today through NAU’s Central Ticket Office. The event can also be live streamed through the NAU website.
Local philanthropists Mike and Karen Kitt, the lead donors for the recital hall, are looking forward to seeing the finished space in use during opening weekend.
“When we started this project, we said we want this to be a facility that both engages artists and audiences,” Mike Kitt said. “It’s definitely an aesthetic triumph.”
The goal of the three performances is to present holiday weekend travelers with a wide array of NAU talent – and to test out the new space, said Todd Sullivan, director of the NAU School of Music.
For the past century, Ashurst Hall – inside the Old Main building – has been used for recitals, even though it lacks many aspects of a room designed for music performances, Sullivan said.
In contrast, the new space does not just account for sound, it fully integrates its movement and manipulation into the structure itself. The room is an assortment of various reflective and absorptive materials from wooden sawtooth panels to overhead “sound clouds” and curtains in order to improve the quality and experience of sound throughout the space.
“The configuration of the wood is designed to send the sound all around the room, creating a giant matrix of sound waves,” he said. “This hall will move sound in complex and rich ways.”
To maintain the experience even in the event an audience member must leave the hall, sets of double doors at the north and south entrances seal out external light and sound. Ceiling speakers occupy the restrooms as well as the atrium, where a monitor will also display video of the ongoing performance.
Sullivan said one remarkable component of the space was completely coincidental. From the audience’s perspective, the recital hall seating is tiered traditionally; however, when you flip the perspective and stand center stage, the depth disappears, creating an intimacy not experienced by performers in any of the university’s other venues. He noted that the view is almost like looking at a giant family portrait.
“It is going to change the way our students go about their communication in music-making experience because they have to get their heads up, and they have to connect with an audience right in front of them. That alone, I think, we could put in the category of game changer,” he said.
Overall, the project required a constant commitment to acoustics from every individual involved, including architects and construction team members.
David Heckard, assistant superintendent at Flagstaff’s CORE Construction, said every feature in the facility is unique and advanced. Though CORE has either created or renovated a majority of the buildings on campus, as an NAU alumnus, Heckard said he was excited to work on such a distinguished project.
“It’s definitely been an opportunity to learn a new style of construction [and] to implement more advanced systems in construction,” he said.
Rehearsal spaces, too, boast designs intended to manipulate the sound created in each room and keep it there through double insulated walls and shock absorbers surrounded by concrete in the floors. With rehearsal spaces adjacent to and even on top of each other, sound containment was essential. Additionally, all mechanical systems were placed outside and a silent airflow system was installed to remove unwanted sounds from entering the facility.
Due to such details, Auditoria Event Coordinator Brett Kitch says everyone wants to be in the space, especially the recital hall itself. Although as many as a dozen recitals can be held in a single weekend, this semester is already fully booked, he said.
The addition of the recital hall is not just valued as a performance space, though, but also as an integral component of a larger community arts complex.
Auditoria Operations Manager Calvin Legassie said the three contiguous performance spaces – Ardrey Auditorium, Kitt Recital Hall and Clifford E. White Theatre – are the foundation for a complete performing arts center. Together, the three can seat approximately 1,800 audience members.
“Having all those in a row makes this a really great hub for art, both presenting what NAU has to offer, what the community has to offer and to welcome traveling groups,” Legassie said.
Following its debut weekend, the Kitt Recital Hall will be available for all types of community performances; however, its educational potential for students remains the primary focus.
“The largest user group of this space will be students,” Sullivan said. “Students are developing musicians and the Kitt Recital Hall is very conducive to learning and healthy music production.”
When the famed explorer John Wesley Powell bumped, splashed and thrashed his way down the Colorado River in 1869, he discovered one of the most striking geologic features on Earth. Not the Grand Canyon — although that too is a marvel — but a conspicuous boundary between the sunset-colored sediments of the upper walls and the dark, jagged rocks below them.
Powell had learned to read the layers of desert rocks like pages in a book, and he recognized that the boundary represented a missing chapter in Earth's geological history. Later, researchers realized it was more like an entire lost volume, spanning roughly one-fifth of Earth's existence, and that a similar gap existed in many places around the world.
"There must have been some sort of special event in Earth's history that led to widespread erosion," said Steve Marshak, a geologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies what has come to be known as the Great Unconformity.
New research suggests it was something special indeed. Scientists propose that several freak episodes of global glaciation scoured away miles of continental crust, obliterating a billion years of geologic history in the process.
The idea was first proposed back in 1973 by a geologist named William White, but no one took him seriously, said C. Brenhin Keller of the Berkeley Geochronology Center, who led the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"It's an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence," Keller said.
Today, however, researchers have come to accept the outlandish notion that, a few times in its 4.6 billion-year history, the planet froze over and became a "Snowball Earth." Now Keller and his colleagues hope to convince their peers that the glaciers that crawled across the continents between 720 million and 580 million years ago were responsible for the Great Unconformity.
Since there are so few rocks from that period, the researchers had to look for other kinds of clues to figure out what happened. They reasoned that the missing layers probably went through the full geologic spin cycle: They would have been broken down into sediment and washed out to sea, then deposited on the ocean floor and recycled into the mantle during subduction before finally melting into the magma that feeds volcanoes.
If so, a record of this activity should hide in tiny time capsules called zircons. These indestructible crystals grow in magma, and they contain the elements oxygen and hafnium. Oceanic and continental crust have distinct signatures of these elements. Therefore, a huge spike in the amount of recycled continental material should have left a clear chemical signal in zircons that formed at that time — and it did.
Keller's team found stark variations in the oxygen and hafnium in zircons, consistent with the continents losing an average of 2 to 3 vertical miles of rock.
"We are talking about an absolutely a huge amount of crust being eroded," he said. "In which case, we should have noticed it missing — and we have."
The zircons also show that the amount of rock getting recycled ramped up just as Snowball Earth set in, suggesting the two events were connected. If so, this explanation solves the long-standing riddle of why erosion increased so dramatically in so many places at the same time.
Usually, rocks start to break down in a particular region when a mountain range gets muscled into existence by plate tectonics. But it's hard to imagine that happening simultaneously on all the continents, Keller said. "Glaciation" — during Snowball Earth, at least — "would apply everywhere."
The researchers offer other data to support their hypothesis. They point to the dearth of meteor craters dating back before 700 million years, suggesting these dents got Brillo-ed out in the making of the Great Unconformity. The researchers also highlight the close agreement between their results and records of ancient sea levels, which would have changed as the continents lost rock and bobbed higher in the mantle, the way an unloaded ship rides higher in the water.
"It's a really cool and provocative idea," said Galen Halverson, a geologist at McGill University in Montreal who was not involved in the work.
Halverson said the researchers have clearly uncovered evidence that something wacky happened at that time in Earth's history. However, he said other scientists may quibble over whether it really corresponds to the Great Unconformity and whether global glaciation was to blame.
For instance, it's not clear that the ice sheets of Snowball Earth could have eaten away so much crust. "If we look at the actual geological record that we have of these glaciations, the sedimentation rates appear to be very, very slow," he said.
Marshak agrees that there could be a connection between Snowball Earth and the Great Unconformity but said questions remain about the order of events. He and several colleagues published a study last year suggesting that widespread erosion — caused by the breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia — triggered chemical reactions that drew down atmospheric carbon dioxide, cooling the planet and plunging it into a Snowball Earth state.
Researchers will have to nail down the timing of erosion and glaciation to see which came first, Marshak said. And, he added, it's possible that both ideas are correct and multiple forces conspired to create this strange moment in Earth history.
"It doesn't mean that it has to be one or the other," he said.
Mayor Coral Evans has called the issue of affordable housing a "crisis in our community." Her comment comes after the council meeting on Jan. 8 in which members wrestled with giving up what many consider park land, and seizing property, to help address the issue.
Council decided to take a closer look at the possibility of using eminent domain to acquire the parcel of land at 703 Blackbird Roost and using the land to build a permanent affordable housing development. The idea had first been brought up by Evans in November of last year.
“According to state statutes, we can look at condemning this piece of property and using it for the purposes of affordable housing,” Evans said, adding that she does not suggest seizing the property lightly. “I myself own two pieces of property here in the city of Flagstaff. My family owns property in Arizona as well.”
The owner of the property, in this case Kings House Inc., would receive compensation based on a fair market appraisal of the property’s value.
Kings House Inc. bought the property in 2017 when it was still home to about 56 families living in mobile homes, many of whom were primarily Spanish speakers and had been living in the village for as long as 12 years. But that didn’t stop Kings House from evicting residents on July 1, 2018 before putting the parcel back on the market, for which they are now asking for $6 million.
The parcel is currently zoned for mobile homes and local realtor Rick Lopez suggested Council keep it zoned as such rather than seizing the land.
“The council does not owe the owner of this property zoning, so you already have some leverage on how this property can be used, because you control the zoning,” Lopez said. “This owner is going to want to you to rezone this property to something that will yield a higher dollar amount.”
But councilmember Jim McCarthy said he worried that if the city doesn’t take the land, it may go wasted for long periods of time despite the fact that it is zoned for what he called an affordable housing use.
In the end, Council decided to take a closer look at condemning the property, something the city was already doing as part of the Rio de Flag flood control project, according to city manager Barbara Goodrich.
The council moved in the opposite direction on a piece of property the city had, up until last year, been using as the public works yard, and that many nearby residents consider part of Thorpe Park.
This discussion first occurred in 2016 when the city had planned to sell the land to help pay for the construction of the new works yard. But at the time, that idea was shot down by residents who had feared that the property might go to a developer and become yet another large scale student housing development.
This would not have to be the case this time, Councilmember Jamie Whelan said.
As the city still owns the land, Whelan said the council could choose to develop only a portion of it for smaller affordable housing units while leaving the rest as green space. A small amount of affordable housing on the site was an idea Whelan first suggested in August of last year.
But residents of the Townsite neighborhood, which borders the former public works yard, still objected to the use of what they consider park land for housing, and residents came out in significant numbers to share their thoughts with council.
Rose Houk, a Townsite resident and member of the organization Friends of Thorpe Park, said she and other residents don’t oppose affordable housing, but turning park land into housing would set a dangerous precedent.
“Affordable housing is a big issue,” Houk said. “This idea that we're elitists, that we're looking down on [affordable housing], that’s very disturbing.”
Because the land is not zoned for housing, it would be far more effort than the small number of homes would be worth, Houk said, especially as the Townsite neighborhood is already contributing to affordable housing through Clark Homes and the Townsite land trust.
Nearby residents also say that the land was deeded to the city as park land in perpetuity, but the city attorney’s office disagrees. According to city attorney Sterling Solomon, the property was purchased in 1923 with no restrictions on use.
In the 1940s, parts of the park were sold off for residential subdivisions and in 1947, the city approved the construction of the public works yard.
Only in 1957 did the council adopt a resolution restricting Thorpe Park to park, recreation and museum uses, Solomon said, but added the council always has the ability to change any ordinance it has previously put in place. In addition, although the council passed the resolution, the city continued to use the area as a public works yard for 61 years.
Nonetheless, the majority of council agreed with Houk and decided against continuing a discussion on the future of the yard.
Councilmember Austin Aslan said he could not support the public park land being developed into housing. Across the western states, development interests chip away at public lands in the name of progress, Aslan said, and this is something he could not support.
The mayor took a different stance.
“So far the city council has attempted to do affordable housing for the last four years and every single time a location is brought forward, there are individuals who live in that neighborhood -- no matter what neighborhood it is -- that [say they are] for affordable housing, that talk about the need for affordable housing, talk about it being a great idea but the wrong location,” Evans said.
Four pick-up loads — that is how many trucks it took to load all of the broken sleds and trash from Crowley Pit on United States Forest Service land.
For Bruce Belman, a member of Friends of Northern Arizona Forests, driving to the highly frequented snowplay area on the Highway 180 and filling in for the furloughed Forest Service did not require much extra thought.
“Somebody’s gotta clean up,” Belman said. “And the Forest Service isn’t able to clean up, so we did it for them."
Belman described himself as the type of guy that picks up trash when he sees it. Normally he goes out through the numbered forest roads looking for trash that may have been revealed after snow melts away, he said, but Belman felt his help was needed sooner.
“I saw the magnitude and the amount of stuff at Crowley Pit, and suggested we get a group together,” Belman said. “I sent out an email to people that are here in the winter, and they said, ‘yeah, we’ll do it.’”
In addition to Belman and his group of six other volunteers, Maggie Twomey, Flagstaff volunteer and event coordinator, organized a group called the Winter Snowplay Stewardship. It was their first time out picking up trash this season, but they pulled together around 40 people to pick up snowplay leftovers.
Twomey’s group gathered Wednesday afternoon in the areas like Lone Tree Road, East J.W. Powell Boulevard and the Peak View pullout.
“Our approach is not to shame people about littering but to encourage them and pat them on the back when they’re using the dumpsters,” Twomey said.
Twomey said she was “tickled pink” by the fact that many of the dumpsters were filled by the time her and her volunteers came around.
“The places we have dumpsters, people are using them,” Twomey said. “The dumpsters are full.”
Peak View pullout had more smaller pieces of trash, but still had some unrecyclable plastic sleds that were broken and sent straight to the dumpster.
Cuyler Boughner, a volunteer at the Peak View pullout, said she has lived in Flagstaff for over 30 years and been picking up trash off of the Highway 180 for just as long. She acknowledged that Flagstaff Snow Park may have helped with the trash and traffic, but felt there needed to be more capacity for snowplay to better handle this problem.
"Those of us who live out here are really concerned that some child is going to get hurt running across the road," Boughner said.
She felt the visitors who come up to Flagstaff to enjoy the snow were not maliciously leaving their trash, but instead were unaware of their impacts on the forest.
"I think generally people want to do the right thing but forget, so when people who come up here aren't used to being in the woods they don't realize that the woods should be picked up, that's new to them," she said.