Ingram School for the Arts a blank canvas

June 18, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- When Michael Thorsen looks at the freshly painted walls in the new Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, he sees a blank canvas.

The school's principal says those walls will display student artwork when the downtown school opens in August.

The high school for the visual and performing arts at 7-11 S. Potomac St. will enroll 160 students in grades nine to 12 in its inaugural year.

Students will participate in specialized programs in music, art, dance and theater.

The public will get its first glimpse of the new building during a fundraising event Saturday, but The Herald-Mail took a tour this week of the facility, which is nearly complete.


The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts is housed in the former Henry's Theater and Elks Lodge. The building, which was built about 1900, was donated by Vincent Groh for the purpose of housing an arts school named after his late wife.


Washington County Public Schools held a groundbreaking ceremony in November 2007 to mark the start of renovations at the site. Those renovations are all but complete, and workers are finishing a few last-minute items.

When crews began work on the century-old building, it was three stories, but a fourth was added, bringing the building from 22,000 square feet to 27,500 square feet.

The building also includes a basement, the site of the school's black box theater. The theater, which is about 1,600 square feet, will have capacity for about 140 people, but Thorsen said he believes the maximum allowed will be 125.

Rows of folding chairs are set up in the theater, but those will be replaced with two banks of more comfortable "theater chairs" on risers, which will allow the seats to be moved to any area of the theater, he said. A black box theater is smaller than a typical theater, with no stage.

Performances in a black box theater typically are shorter, consisting of only a few acts, and the thick black curtains that can cover any wall in the theater allow the performance to take place in any area.

"Everything has to do with the actor ... the actual performance has very little sets," Thorsen said. "The focus is on the actor."

Thorsen said when the theater is not being used by students, it will become a community room that could be used for political events, meetings or other needs.

The basement also includes a student lounge, theater shop and green room.

Chad Criswell, director of facilities planning and development and project manager for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, said the school was built to be soundproof, benefiting students in other classrooms and anyone in neighboring buildings.

The first floor of the school includes the building's main entrance off South Potomac Street, a reception area, maintenance office and dressing room.

Each of the remaining three floors is divided by discipline. The second floor is the music floor, where students will participate in choral, instrumental, music technology and piano classes. It also has three soundproof practice rooms.

The bulk of the third floor is consumed by a 2,300-square-foot ballroom, lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on one wall. A barre -- a handrail used for dance -- lines the opposing wall. That room also includes a piano.

School officials added a fourth floor to the historic building that is not visible from South Potomac Street. The floor includes rooms for painting, ceramics, sculpture, drawing and electronic media, and a darkroom.

A skylight that was on what is now the ceiling of the third floor was moved to the school's new roof, Criswell said. Thorsen said as much natural light as possible streams into classrooms on the art floor. A room where students will be painting looks over the eastern part of Hagerstown with floor-to-ceiling windows.

"Natural light is the key," Thorsen said.

He said on nice days students even could paint on a patio accessible from that classroom.

Historic preservation

Criswell said the building takes "the best of the old and combines it with new technology available."

Construction was done in this way in order to be sensitive to the historic building, and also as a qualification for tax credits received for construction, he said.

The school's front door is original to the building's construction, and even includes the old mail slots. Mosaic tile was kept outside of the front entrance.

Inside, a wooden bench, original handrails and stairs were preserved. The stairs leading to the fourth floor and the railing were built to match the historic stairs on the lower floors.

Historic stone and brick adorn walls on the first floor and the basement.

While many original features were maintained, Criswell said the school also meets current fire safety standards and requirements established by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The school eventually will enroll as many as 300 students, who will take academic classes at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown on West Washington Street.

Looking at the new school this week, Thorsen described it as an "empty canvas."

"We're going to decorate the walls with student artwork," he said. "Any place there is a blank spot, we want to put student work on display. If we see a space, we will try to put something there. It's an arts school."

Barbara Ingram School for the Arts

Original building construction: 1900

Renovations completed: 2009

Size: 27,500 square feet

Total cost: About $10 million

Total grant money received: $362,000

Total historic tax credit: $1,050,000

Total state bond bills: $700,000

Total raised by the BISFA foundation: More than $400,000

Total being financed: $8.32 million

Enrollment in first year: 160 students

Enrollment capacity: 300 students

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