The curtain is expected to rise this spring on the next major act of the Rockefeller Arts Center expansion project. That’s when ground will be broken on the 40,000 square-foot addition to the iconic building which opened in 1969.
Featured attractions of the two-story expansion that will face Varsity Drive include a multipurpose room, three dance studios, two acting studios, scenery paint shop, costume shop laundry, woodwork shop and ceramics, sculpture and foundry studios. There will also be a new entrance for Marvel Theatre as well as a café and new passenger and freight elevators. Also, a new road by Steele Hall will soon connect Varsity Drive to Ring Road.
Renovation is also a major player in this much anticipated production. Second-floor spaces will be redone to house design/technical production offices, a computer lab, light/sound lab, and design/drawing studio for the Department of Theatre and Dance. A computer lab, drawing room, digital media rooms, shooting studio and printmaking studio will be created, also on the second floor, for the Department of Visual Arts and New Media. Listed as a “bid alternate” is a connector linking Rockefeller to nearby Mason Hall, home of the School of Music.
The project, designed by Deborah Berke Partners, an award-winning architectural firm based in New York City, will also bring the entire dance curriculum and parts of the Department of Visual Arts and New Media, currently housed in Dods Hall and McEwen Hall, respectively, under the Rockefeller roof. More than 30 potential bidders, including four general contractors, toured Rockefeller last fall, said Stephen Rees, project shepherd and retired chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Another six general contractors picked up project drawings. All but two of the 10 general contractors were from Western New York. The State University Construction Fund is expected to issue notices to proceed to successful bidders in April. Bids were scheduled to be opened Dec. 17.
Construction activity is anticipated to begin in May, said Markus Kessler, director of Facilities Planning. A December 2015 completion is forecast for the addition, while renovation work is to start July 2014 and be completed before the Fall 2016 semester begins. King Concert Hall and Bartlett Theatre will not be affected, though Marvel and its lobby will be closed at some point, Rees noted.
Dr. Ralph Blasting, who became founding dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts last summer, brings valuable perspective from past experience with a similar project also undertaken in phases. Dean Blasting was chair of the Theatre Department at Towson University from 1997 to 2004, when plans were developed and construction began on a $43.3 million expansion and renovation of the school’s Center for the Arts. “The result felt like an entirely new building, as the circulation patterns and new collection of spaces changed the whole way students, faculty and visitors experienced the building,” Blasting recalled of the project that transformed the fine arts facility, built in the same era as Rockefeller, into one of the top performing venues in the Baltimore area.
Though Rockefeller is already one of the top performing venues in this region, Blasting said “this will take us up a level in terms of student learning and audience experience.” Blasting indicated that Rees, Theatre and Dance Chair Tom Loughlin, Visual Arts and New Media Chair Bob Booth, Rockefeller Arts Center Director Jefferson Westwood and School of Music Director Karl Boelter have done outstanding work planning for construction to begin. “Building users…eagerly await the new construction knowing that even though there will be a couple of years of inconvenience, the reward…will be worth the wait and should meet the needs of students and faculty for many years to come.” Rees said.