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'They care more about an AC unit than arts' — UNC dance studio at demolition risk for practice gym

Sophomore Natalie Spencer, Junior Meredith Zinger, and Senior Kendra Tse warm up for a UNC dance class in the soon to be demolished Woollen B019 dance studio on Jan 17, 2023

UNC Athletics is considering creating a new practice space for the women’s basketball team in Woollen Gym. But in order to do that, they may be sacrificing a basement dance studio used by dance classes and multiple dance clubs. 

According to Rick Steinbacher, a senior associate athletic director in charge of capital projects and facilities, there are five athletic programs that compete for practice and competition space in Carmichael Arena. These include women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics and fencing — displacing teams when the arena is being used by another sport.

“It's a real challenge for our coaches, just trying to be able to compete and practice and be ready for home and away games, when a lot of times they want to practice and they can't because either another team is practicing, or there's a wrestling meet, or a gymnastics meet or a volleyball game that day,” he said. 

Steinbacher said the need for a practice gym has been clear for many years, even before 2014. The new space would primarily be used by women’s basketball, but may also be used by volleyball and other sports.

He said the 86-year-old gymnasium is not an ideal host for the air conditioning equipment required for a new practice gym. 

Steinbacher said UNC Athletics has considered eight options to house the new air conditioning equipment. Although he said athletics has not made a decision on what to do at the site yet, the option that seems to minimize disruption and costs the most is converting one of the dance studios into a maintenance room. 

One of the options he said they considered was putting the air conditioning equipment on a platform outside the building, which would not disrupt any programming. However, this would constitute a large, expensive construction project. 

“It turns into this enormous thing that — a) just wouldn't look right — and b) costs a lot more than what we originally hoped would be a solution,” Steinbacher said.  

UNC Athletics is hoping to finalize plans and a timeline for the project next month. 

Since UNC Athletics has a shared use agreement with Campus Recreation and the Department of Exercise and Sport Science, they have been in conversation about the project with both organizations. Currently, the dance studio looking to be repurposed is used by academic dance classes and many dance clubs. 

Mary Linares is a sophomore who uses the studio weekly as vice president of Modernextension Dance Company, a member of Carolina Style Ballet Company and a student in advanced ballet classes at UNC. She said she is disappointed by the potential new plan project.

She said the studio is ideal for her clubs and classes. After enduring water damage a few years ago, the studio was given a new dance floor. Additionally, spaces like the multipurpose room next door, which Linares suspects her classes and clubs may move to if work begins in room B019, have wooden floors that are not an ideal option. 

“Using it for ballet just really wouldn't work very well because it's very slippery in ballet shoes,” Linares said. 

Eric Leinweber, a senior and the president of Blank Canvas, another student dance company, said he is angered by the project. Blank Canvas also uses the studio weekly for rehearsals, and he said the room helps to accommodate the large size of the company. 

“It helps accommodate those larger dances since we are the largest dance company. It's hard to fit everyone in that smaller (Student) Union underground room sometimes when you have 50, 60 people in a dance,” he said.

One thing Steinbacher said UNC Athletics is doing in response to the situation is moving women’s rowing from a room they have previously used — to free up space that could be used for these displaced programs. 

Dancers who use the B019 studio, however, do not see this as an adequate alternative. 

“It has a column in the middle of it, and for dance, all you need is space, good flooring, mirrors, etc. And that room just isn't really optimal in any way,” Linares said.  

In an attempt to take action against the project, she said she's thinking of starting a petition or collaborating with other clubs that use the studio. Leinweber, however, said he's less hopeful. 

“The arts at UNC are literally second place to an AC unit at this point," he said. "They care more about an AC unit than arts on campus. That's kind of the message that they're sending."

Elise Trexler contributed reporting.

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