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UB Center for the Arts undergoing $15.3 million makeover

The shows will go on, even as the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts receives a multimillion-dollar makeover.

Construction crews are in the midst of replacing the distinctive 365-foot-long atrium skylight inside the popular North Campus venue for acclaimed speakers, concerts and other performances.

The skylight replacement is part of a multiyear $15.3 million overhaul of the Center for the Arts, which was built in 1994 at a cost of $50 million and houses a 1,750-seat main theater, as well as three small theaters, a large atrium lobby, an art gallery and a variety of studios, offices and classrooms.

The old, dual-walled fiberglass skylight panels were no longer letting a sufficient amount of light into the atrium area. “The exterior panels cracked with the different temperature changes over time and there was condensation formed in there,” said Kevin Thompson, director of facilities planning and design at UB. “It just got real dingy. It wasn’t performing.”

The new skylight system is made of tempered glass.

To keep the center open during construction, workers sealed off the atrium area by installing indoor scaffolding 34 feet high. Temporary lighting and walls also have been installed. Visitors are free to walk underneath the scaffolding into the main theater, which is not affected by construction. A sold-out Bonnie Raitt show next Sunday will proceed as scheduled, along with other performances throughout the fall, including humorist David Sedaris on Oct. 17, singer Colm Wilkinson on Nov. 10 and the MythBusters on Nov. 27.

Work on the skylight is expected to continue through November, although scaffolding won’t be removed until late December or early January, during a break between semesters. Crews are working both inside and outside on the installation. A 225-ton crane with 240 feet of boom also is being employed to carry panels of glass weighing as much as 2,000 pounds.

In addition to the atrium skylight, 28 smaller skylights over art studios and the art gallery already have been replaced. “It’s kind of night and day. The improvement has been tremendous,” said Thompson.

Other completed elements of the first phase of the project include: replacement of about 2,000 exterior aluminum panels, replacement of the exterior concrete stairs on the north side of the building and repair of the plaza decks and sidewalks to stop leaks in the basement of the building.

The center’s roof will be replaced in a second phase scheduled for next summer, and a third phase, scheduled for 2017, will include brick, mortar and panel work on the building’s exterior facade. State University of New York capital funds are paying for the work.