piano photo

Photo courtesy of Dean May

A grand piano sits in a dumpster on the Indiana State University campus on Saturday, May 16.

When Indiana State University began disposing of older, no-longer-used pianos at Eighth and Chestnut streets over the weekend, word quickly spread on social media.

Among those who showed up at the site Saturday was Dean May, a piano technician.

What he saw left him “speechless,” May said. One dumpster had two grand pianos in it — one a Yamaha and the other a Knabe.

The pianos would have been marketable, but not after they were disposed of in the dumpster, May said. Another dumpster had a Steinway studio piano, which also was marketable, he said.

“It was unconscionable,” May said. “To anyone who loves pianos … to see them tossed in a dumpster brings an emotional tug at the heart.”

But May also said several of the pianos were “pretty well used,” and they can be difficult to sell at auction.

Others on social media expressed anger that the pianos were simply being thrown away.

Mark Alesia, ISU director of communication, said the pianos were old and “virtually beyond repair” to the point they could not be sold at a public auction.

In January, the university “reached out repeatedly to the community,” including at least 15 organizations and charitable groups, to give the pianos away, Alesia said.

Those contacted included two used furniture vendors (one in Bloomington, one in Indianapolis), the Vigo County School Corp., and two Terre Haute moving companies. The school district took two pianos, while the moving companies and used furniture vendors showed no interest.

The no-longer-used pianos had been moved to the former College of Nursing building when the Fine Arts building was renovated. Now, with Dreiser Hall slated to be renovated later this year, employees and classes from that building will be moved into the former home of the nursing program. The pianos had to be moved out.

Both ISU facilities and University Engagement staff reached out to the community to try and give away the pianos in January, Alesia said.

The groups were told the pianos needed to be retrieved by mid-February and they had to provide their own transportation; also, it was on a first come, first-served basis.

About 10 pianos were involved, he said.

Commenting on the anger expressed by some on social media, Alesia responded, “It’s an understandable reaction, but people need to know we made repeated attempts to give them away.”

Had the pianos been usable and of value, they would have been sold at public auction, he said.

Also, Alesia said, the last year or two ISU put six pianos in a discarded property auction. “We sold three of the six, and the selling price for each one was $25 or less.”

Scott Buchanan, director of ISU’s School of Music, said when School of Music employees and classes moved back to Fine Arts after renovation was complete last year, there were a few surplus pianos left over “that every one of us [music faculty] thought would be moved to central storage and put up for auction.”

Arrangements had been made to sell three to someone in Ohio, but that did not materialize due to the pandemic, Buchanan said. The university did try and find new homes for the pianos.

Facilities management had indicated the pianos needed to be moved out of the former nursing building by May 14, Buchanan said, but “I never in my wildest dreams thought they would just be tossed out.”

Had he known that was going to happen, “I would have tried to get them to do something different,” including offering them to others who might be interested, such as other area school districts, Buchanan said.

Vickie Payne said she drove by the pianos, which were already in two dumpsters, on Friday. She drove by again Saturday, saw they were still there and posted pictures she had taken. Her Facebook post was quickly shared — 3,800 times by Monday.

“Indiana State is throwing away pianos at Eighth and Chestnut if anyone wants one before it rains,” she posted about noon Saturday. By Sunday when she drove by, they were gone.

Payne, who is retired, said Monday, “I thought it seemed kind of weird for a college that gets state funding to throw out that many pianos.”

She wonders why ISU didn’t put a public notice somewhere to let the public know about the pianos.

“That’s better than throwing musical instruments away like that,” she said.

Alesia stated “disposing of the pianos was the last option after other options had been exhausted.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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