UM-ST. LOUIS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER NOT CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF 

The concerts won't be the only source of noise at UM-St. Louis' proposed performance venue, one professor says

Anyone who dozes off during a tedious theatrical production or starts to nod in the middle of a pianissimo part of a classical piece at the new performing-arts center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis won't be sleeping for long, according to a noise study conducted by Richard D. Schwartz, chairman of UM-St. Louis' Department of Physics and Astronomy. They won't be startled awake by a sonic boom, but jets flying overhead will be audible inside the hall.

There'll be plenty of jets, too: Schwartz estimates that "hundreds" fly daily over the proposed site for the $50 million center, just three miles from Lambert Airport's runway 12L/30R. Schwartz sent his 19-page report to UM-St. Louis Chancellor Blanche Touhill last year, but in an Oct. 27 memo to the Faculty Council, he complains that Touhill's administration has "failed to send any written response to my comments and questions."

The study estimates that from 8-10 p.m., Monday-Friday, about 25 noise-producing flights will fly over the center, or about one every five minutes. On Saturday during that timeframe, the number will drop to one flight every 12.5 minutes; on Sunday, one every eight minutes.

To simulate what might happen at UM-St. Louis, Schwartz went to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., which is similar to the proposed structure at UM-St. Louis. A Sabre Jet was hired to fly overhead for the noise measurements. The Schwartz study found that the noise was highest in the lobby -- 65 decibels -- and about 45 decibels in the seating area of the auditorium.

Schwartz suggests moving the site of the controversial center to UM-St. Louis' South Campus and recommends a thicker roof with double 8-inch concrete layers instead of 6-inch layers to reduce the sound by 10 decibels. Thicker walls would help, he says, but the glass-enclosed lobby might be a lost cause. Thicker glass won't help much.

Schwartz sent an Oct. 12 memo posing six questions to Touhill, including one asking whether there had been consideration of altering the design of the center so that it could have "an enclosed concrete shell similar to the Theatre Hall." In that memo, Schwartz urges Touhill to go public about the potential noise problems of the center, because "to the extent that public tax dollars plus considerable contributions from private benefactors are involved, I think that public acknowledgment of the problem is in order."

For Touhill's part, Deputy to the Chancellor Donald Driemeier responded in a Nov. 3 letter that the correspondence to Schwartz from a Chicago architectural acoustic consultant should have been sufficient to address Schwartz's concerns. A sound simulation at the campus is planned for Friday, and Schwartz is invited to attend. But Schwartz, in the Oct. 27 memo to the Faculty Council, concludes that "in my opinion, the Performing Arts Center as currently planned will be severely compromised by aircraft noise, and the taxpayers of the state should be made aware that they are paying for a sub-standard facility."

Give us your feedback by e-mailing "Short Cuts" at shortcuts@rftstl.com, faxing 314-615-6716 or calling 314-615-6711.

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