DPR, Spotify, Rebuilding Together Help Austin School Get Its Groove On

A cool new beat can be heard coming from Kealing Middle School in Austin, Tex. these days – all thanks to a major community service initiative undertaken by a partnership of Spotify, DPR and Rebuilding Together to deliver new sound studios and a bounty of music mixing equipment to a local school.

DPR volunteers and self perform work crews turned it up to 11 to transform an empty room at Kealing Middle School into three new sound studios over spring break. Photo courtesy Angie Weyant.

Spotify, well-known for its streaming music service, conceived of the charitable project as a way to make a lasting, positive mark on the Austin community in the wake of the annual South by Southwest festival held in early March. They decided to donate the extensive sound equipment, furniture and art from their popular “Spotify House” from this year’s festival to a local school’s music program. Spotify reached out to Rebuilding Together to help find the right candidate and the means to deliver their vision.

Kealing Middle School – a magnet school and comprehensive academy in a diverse, under-resourced neighborhood – was the perfect fit. It already had a modern, organized music program in place and a strong vision for how it could grow. Knowing DPR’s strong community commitment and based on their longstanding relationship, Rebuilding Together brought DPR on board to help design and build three brand new recording lab studios that would house the Spotify-donated equipment.

Angie Weyant, DPR’s community service liaison and a leader in the Austin region, helped manage what turned out to be a major undertaking from start to finish.

“We took the whole project from conception to construction to make it happen,” she said of the design-build services that DPR donated – totaling an estimated $25,000 in materials and labor, not counting the unpaid management time. While planning, budgeting and preconstruction for the project began early in the year, construction of the new production studios could only take place over the school’s spring break. The work required over 800 man hours, with DPR Drywall and Paint Self Perform Work crews working long hours to complete the work in just under 10 days.

This mural, from the Spotify House venue at the South by Southwest festival, was created by New York Artist Shantell Martin. It depicts all the types of music that can be streamed on Spotify. Photo courtesy Angie Weyant.

To meet the acoustical engineer’s design specifications for the new production studios, DPR crews hung some 7,174 square feet of drywall in the three rooms – three layers on each side of the wall and ceiling. “It was more drywall than we’ve ever installed on a project of this size – ever,” said Weyant.

And like any building project, this one required various custom and sometimes on-the-spot solutions to keep it moving forward. For example, DPR devised a custom frame to hang the 22-footlong canvas mural that had formally adorned the Spotify House.

The contractor faced an even more pressing logistical challenge tracking the new doors and windows that were being delivered by trucks which got stuck in a snowstorm. Even though the material arrived late, finishing the job late was not an option. Instead, laborers worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. over the weekend to complete the job in time for the return of students Monday.

DPR Drywall and Self Perform Paint crews put the finishing touches on the studios. Photo courtesy Katie Hughes.

In the end, the project was a major undertaking – but well worth the effort, according to Weyant. “The best part was being able to use our core skills, doing what we do every day, to help youth in our local community. That was pretty awesome,” she said.

From Spotify’s standpoint, “We couldn’t have done this project without DPR Construction,” said Kerry Steib, Director of Social Impact. “It wasn’t just their expertise in the pieces of the project they were leading, it was their willingness to find creative solutions, to take on problems as they arose and to push toward creating the best project possible for these students.”

She added, “There were a few moments along the way where we were met with interesting, unique and last-minute challenges. And every time, DPR approached them with positivity and collaboration. I feel fortunate to have worked with every member of that team.”

While there was no “big reveal” at project completion, Steib described the impact the new space is having bringing diverse groups of youths together through music and helping Spotify fulfill its goal to “unlock the power of music for everyone.”

“My favorite moment was about 4 p.m. afterschool Wednesday, the third day the studio had been opened,” Steib said. “I was leaving the space and there were two kids in the classroom space using the computers and Ableton software, one kid playing the guitar in a studio, and two more collaborating on a song in another. They were voluntarily staying late to hang out and work on something they were into. That was magic.”