Towson University officials unveiled yesterday the nearly completed Center for the Arts, a $53 million addition and face-lift that leaders hope will put the college on a competitive level with other regional and national four-year institutions.
With four new dance studios, a new recital hall, a second studio theater and other enhancements, officials also hope to continue to draw top performers such as Yo-Yo Ma, Les Paul and John Glover. They also will invite artists to display their work at the center.
The facility is expected to open in October.
President Robert L. Caret called the center the "most significant" addition to the campus in years. He said that it will anchor a $300 million building plan for the next five years that will include new, multilevel parking garages and other capital improvements.
The building will house the College of Fine Arts and Communication, which consists of the departments of art, dance, electronic media, film, music, theater arts and mass communication.
An atrium with colored skylights across a soaring ceiling will be an informal gathering place for students, faculty, staff and visitors.
Other features include an enlarged costume shop, a 32-channel recording studio and Asian Arts Gallery.
One of the college officials taking the tour of the center was Trudy Cobb Dennard, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and a lifelong dancer. She could hardly contain her excitement when the tour group ventured into one of the dance studios. She bounded into the air and alighted softly on the new, spring-loaded flooring.
"Everyone is champing at the bit, students and faculty, to get into this wonderful new place and explore," said Dennard. "The entire building will allow us all to collaborate creatively and intellectually. It's very exciting."
The dance program has been offered in a building separate from the other arts.
Scott Vieth, architect from Design Collective Inc., said the 135,000 square feet of new space were wrapped around the existing arts center.
"We focused on several ideas in designing the new center," said Vieth. "We wanted safe, well-ventilated studios and rooms."
To help students and visitors wend their way through the building, each department will be color-coded: art, gold; dance, green; music, blue; and theater, purple. Those directional clues will be displayed in walls, carpet and other portions of the departments.
"We also used a lot of glass and put the front door of the building where it belongs -- in front of the building," Vieth said. "The building will serve as a palette for the students. They are the ones who will make this building come alive."
One of the challenges of construction -- a job that has taken more than two years -- was shifting students from one area of the building to another while work continued.
John Keefer is the project executive who guided construction for Gilbane Builders, a national firm that has done work at the Smithsonian Institution, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the $27 million renovation at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
Towson's fine-arts programs have drawn 50,000 patrons annually, a number university officials think will climb.
By 2010, the school expects to have a student enrollment of 25,000, 80 percent of whom are likely to remain in the area after graduating.