Towson arts center gets a $40 million overhaul


Project adds theater, modern practice areas to 31-year-old building

April 28, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Aiming to make the arts a more integral part of the campus experience, Towson University will begin construction next month on a $40 million expansion and renovation of its 31-year-old Center for the Arts.

University leaders will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at 11 a.m. May 7 to mark the start of work on the project, which has been in the planning stages for years.

When complete in 2005 at Osler and Cross Campus drives, the expanded center will contain the academic departments of music, theater arts, art and dance, which is moving from Burdick Hall.

It will also strengthen Towson University as a regional magnet for the arts, with new performing spaces such as a recital hall, black-box theater and dance performance hall.

"This will make a huge impact on our campus," said David Harnage, senior vice president and chief fiscal officer. "It will allow us to serve our students better and support our programs better. It will enhance our ability to be an anchor for the arts in the community."

"This building will bring the arts to life," said Sedonia Martin, spokeswoman for the university's College of Fine Arts and Communication, which includes the departments that will occupy the enlarged center. "It will bring all of the arts together in one building and make them more accessible to the whole campus."

Expanding and upgrading Towson's arts center was a long-standing dream of former university president Hoke Smith. The project was funded during the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who also supported new arts centers at Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Completed in 1972, Towson's brick-clad arts center rises on a hill and has an intimidating presence, with few windows to indicate signs of life inside. Major spaces include a 325-seat theater and a 500-seat concert hall, both of which will remain.

The addition has been designed with plenty of windows that will enable students to see out and enable passers-by to see activity inside, such as dancers rehearsing or artists in their studios.

The addition steps down the hill and has a new entrance facing Cross Campus Drive that will literally and symbolically bring the arts from the hilltop down to street level.

"This makes it more friendly looking," Martin said. "It brings the arts closer to the rest of campus and makes the arts more visible because of all the glass."

The expansion will increase the size of Towson's arts center from 165,000 square feet to 288,000 square feet. Besides the new performing spaces, key improvements will include theater directors' labs and lecture classrooms, a renovated band room, a recording studio, percussion and jazz labs, and new offices for the theater, music, art and dance faculty.

The project also will contain a new art gallery, an expanded Asian Arts gallery, an Asian garden, an enlarged box office and a new art studio and gallery for graduate students.

The design team is a joint venture of Design Collective of Baltimore and Wilson Butler Lodge of Boston. Mahan Rykiel is the landscape architect. Gilbane Building Co. is the construction manager.

Towson University officials taking part in the groundbreaking ceremony are Dan Jones, interim president; Deborah Leather, interim provost; Gary Rubin, vice president for university advancement; Charles Flippen, acting dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, Hoke Smith, president emeritus, and Harnage. The public is invited.

Of the 16,500 students at Towson, 1,100 are enrolled in the College of Fine Arts and Communication. Harnage said he expects more than 10,000 people a year to visit the expanded arts center, including many who have no direct affiliation with the university.

City preservation forum

Efforts to capitalize on Baltimore's historical and architectural assets will be the subject of a public forum at noon Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Fayette streets.

Bill Pencek, director of the Baltimore City Heritage Area in Mayor Martin O'Malley's office, will moderate a panel that will discuss the importance of preservation easements as a tool to accomplish neighborhood revitalization and preservation of community character. The panel will focus on key considerations that a prospective easement donor should take into account.

Pencek will be joined by John C. Murphy, a member of the board of the Maryland Environmental Trust, who will discuss the legal and financial consequences of easement donation, and Richard Brand of the Maryland Historical Trust, who will discuss that agency's easement program. There are more than 100 properties in Baltimore with easements held by the Maryland Historical Trust.

The forum is sponsored by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.

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