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Theater is Groh's gift to Hagerstown

March 05, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown property owner Vincent Groh has donated the former Henry's Theater to the city for use as a magnet school for the arts, Mayor William M. Breichner announced Tuesday morning during his State of the City Address.

"I appreciate the opportunity to do this. Thank you," Groh said to a crowd of approximately 170 people at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center at Antietam Creek.

Groh said the school would be named in honor of his late wife, Barbara Ingram, who died in 1995.

Groh, who approached the podium with his daughter, Katie Fitzsimmons, and his 3-year-old granddaughter, Barbara, received a standing ovation.

After the address, Groh said his wife had taught art in Washington County's middle schools. She was a ballerina, did modern dance, enjoyed drawing and was a board member at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, he said.

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"She loved art," Fitzsimmons said.

Groh said Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan approached him last spring about using the former theater. Groh and city officials have been working out the details over the last few months.

Morgan said the magnet school for the performing and visual arts won't open for a few years. There is no cost estimate or timeline, she said.

Some arts programs are available at South Hagerstown High School and Washington County Technical High School, Morgan said. Tentative plans would have the downtown school focus on painting, drama, playwriting and vocal music related to theater work, Morgan said. Students would apply through an audition or by submitting a portfolio of their work.

Morgan said she envisioned the school drawing students from Washington County, the rest of Western Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In addition to pursuing grants and private funding to renovate the theater, Morgan said there could be tuition for out-of-county students so the school can support itself.

Hagerstown Economic Development Coordinator Deborah Everhart said a decision hasn't been made as to whether the city will retain ownership of the old 9-11 S. Potomac St. theater, which is in the city's Arts and Entertainment District.

The building is being used by a boxing group.

Henry's Theater became a cinema in 1906 and closed as a movie theater around 1980, according to the Washington County Historical Society. The building then housed a dinner theater.

Almost three years ago, a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce committee proposed making the old theater part of a $10 million Visual & Performing Arts Center for downtown Hagerstown.

Funding has not materialized for that project, but an arts center is still planned, Everhart said.

Within the last year, plans for the arts center shifted across the street to the Schindel-Rohrer building at 28 S. Potomac St., City Planning Director Kathy Maher said in a telephone interview.

The Washington County Arts Council is exploring leasing the Schindel-Rohrer building for a number of reasons, one of which is it would be easier to renovate, Maher said.

Arts Council Executive Director Elizabeth Lay said in a telephone interview that the Schindel-Rohrer building won't be able to accommodate large performing arts, but could be a good interim building until the council can better tackle a larger project. A lease has not been signed, she said.

Breichner also reviewed the city's financial situation and talked about other projects.

This year's State of the City address was hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored by Wright-Gardner Insurance.

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