Mercersburg Academy to build $21 million performing arts center

November 07, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, PA. - Boone Hall, which for the last half century served as the auditorium at Mercersburg Academy, soon will see the wrecking ball.

The demolition will make room for a modern performing arts center, a facility that will be grand enough to host an ensemble as large as the Pittsburgh Symphony, said Douglas Hale, head of school in Mercersburg since 1997.

Construction of the new center will begin in a few weeks with the razing of Boone Hall.

Boone Hall was built in the 1950s and named in honor of Vice Admiral Joel T. Boone, class of 1909, a highly decorated Navy doctor who earned many of his country's highest honors, including the Medal of Honor for service in World War I. He also was the first U.S. military doctor to enter Japan to aid U.S. prisoners of war at the end of World War II, according to a biography written by Tim O. Rockwell, former dean of students at the academy.


Boone, who died in 1974 at age 84, also had served as the personal physician for Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.

The new performing arts center will be named Burgin Hall in honor of former Headmaster Walter H. Burgin Jr. and his wife, Barbara, Hale said.

Burgin's life was centered around the academy. He graduated from the prestigious prep school in 1953, taught there for six years and served as its headmaster for 25 years, Hale said. Barbara Burgin served as assistant director of admissions.

The school's top post was changed from headmaster to head of school when Hale was hired.

Located on the campus' main quadrangle, Burgin Hall is expected to be completed by September 2006.

Its architect is Polshek Partnership, a New York City firm that designed the Clinton Presidential Library, Santa Fe Opera House and "lots of other high profile buildings," Hale said.

Construction will cost $21 million, to which $7 million will be added for architect and engineering fees, furnishings and equipment.

More than 90 percent of the total cost already has been donated or pledged, including a lead gift from Marguerite and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, Hale said.

In the planning stages for three years, the 65,000-square-foot Burgin Hall will have a main theater with three balcony levels, all of which can be entered from classrooms that surround it. It is designed for flexibility - it can be opened for large performances or closed off for classroom study.

It will have two entrances, one on campus and one facing the Borough of Mercersburg off Constitution Avenue - a design, Hale said, that emphasizes the building's outreach to the community.

"It will have a sense of not turning its back on any part of the campus," he said.

Hale said Mercersburg and surrounding communities will be encouraged to use the center as much as possible.

It has architectural elements reminiscent of the front porches that are an integral part of many private homes in the borough, he said.

Materials incorporated into the construction will include the use of much glass in addition to natural elements provided by wood, brick and Pennsylvania limestone, Hale said.

The center will include a 600-seat main theater, a 120-seat studio theater-in-the-round in a separate adjoining building, recital and choral halls, theater support spaces and art and dance studios.

Advanced acoustics and theater-teaching technologies also will aid in the academy's goal of integrating a fine arts program into the school's curriculum, Hale said.

"You'd have to go to Baltimore or Harrisburg to find a facility such as this," Hale said. "Burgin Hall is designed to become a central focus of our school and local community."

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