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Coming Soon: Barbara Ingram School for the Arts

November 13, 2007|By RICHARD BELISLE

Some longtime city residents might recall the days in downtown Hagerstown when movies were shown in Henry's Theater, and the Elks Club held dances in the big ballroom upstairs.

The Elks moved out of the building at 9-11 S. Potomac St. in 1975 and the theater went dark five years later, but now, thanks to a $10 million makeover, the old building will soon take on a new life as the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.

It will become Washington County's eighth high school and only the second of its kind in Maryland.

"The other one is the Baltimore School for the Arts," said Dale D. Bannon, director of systems management for the Washington County School District. "Ours is modeled after it. This is going to be a whole new high school. We'll be pulling in students from the county's seven other high schools."

The school board awarded a contract to Waynesboro (Pa.) Construction Co. to renovate the three-story theater building. The contract calls for adding a fourth floor, said Rob Hovermale, the school district's coordinator of visual and performing arts.

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The building will serve as a ninth- through 12th-grade, 300-student high school offering intensive training in four visual and performing art disciplines - visual arts, music, theater and dance.

Students' time will be evenly divided between art classes in the new school and academic classes through a cooperative venture with the new University System of Maryland around the corner on West Washington Street, Bannon said.

The Washington County Free Library will serve as the art school's library.

Students will qualify for enrollment through auditions and portfolios, Bannon said.

While Washington County students will receive primary enrollment consideration, the school will be open to students from other Maryland counties and those from nearby West Virginia and Pennsylvania on a space-available, tuition-paying basis.

"This will be a core program for the arts," Hovermale said. The new school will also help to alleviate overcrowding in the county's other high schools. "We'll add staff like any new school building," he said. Adjunct instructors will augment the teaching staff.

In 2003, Vincent Groh, well-known local businessman and property owner, donated the Henry's Theater building to the City of Hagerstown for use as a school for the arts to be named after his late wife, Barbara Ingram.

A lover of the arts, Barbara Ingram, who died in 1995, taught art at North Potomac Junior High School in the 1960s, according to school officials. She was a ballerina, performed modern dance, enjoyed drawing and was a board member of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

In August the Hagerstown City Council voted to transfer the property to the nonprofit Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc. That allowed the school board to qualify for tax credits in the renovation of the building.

In all, the board has received nearly $2 million in state tax credits and grants toward the $10 million project. The rest of the money will be borrowed, Bannon said.

The school board created the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts Foundation to seek donations in the community for capital and operations expenses.

"This school will become an integral part of downtown Hagerstown's art and entertainment district, along with the Maryland Theatre, the Washington County Arts Council and the Maryland Symphony," Bannon said. "It will also be available for community use."

According to school officials, the Barbara Ingram School will also serve as an arts resource for the county through performances and educational workshops.

Construction began this fall with completion slated for the spring of 2009. The first full class will enter the school for the fall term that year.

The first floor will consist of a black box theater that can change configuration through a system of moveable seats. The first floor will also house an art gallery featuring students' works.

The music department, instrumental and choral, will take over the second floor, along with the upper part of the black box theater, Hovermale said.

The third floor, the one lighted by the huge arched windows in front of the building - the very same windows that brought light into the old Elks ballroom - will become the new school's dance studio.

Visual arts students - sculpture and painting - will occupy the newly added fourth floor, Hovermale said.

"We'll still have all of the disciplines in the other seven high schools (South High has the county's only high school dance program), but this new school will take serious students to the next level," he said.

"I like to think of it as an alternative way to go to high school for the out-of-the-box thinkers."

Architectural images: Cho Benn Holback + Associates, Inc.

Shown on opposite page, these images by Cho Benn Holback & Associates, Inc., offer hints at what areas in the arts school might look like, including clockwise from upper left: the choral room; the third-floor dance studio; the student lounge; the black box theater; the art gallery; and the painting studio.

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