With new features such as a second floor and a black-box theater that also serves as a dance studio, the newly renovated Kepler Center was dedicated Friday at Hagerstown Community College.
“This building is everything we could dream it could be,” said HCC student Satia Williamson ofWashington, D.C. “It is a combination of all the arts here on campus.”
Williamson, 28, is majoring in psychology but attended HCC in 2006 as a theater major.
Williamson said she spent time in the old building then and talked about how the improvements have enhanced the Kepler Center.
“All the instructors from every department are here, and we get to interact more,” said Williamson, who takes art classes at HCC. “It’s not just the theater.”
Students, faculty, and administration members gathered in the new theater from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. to recognize the renovations and people involved in the project.
HCC’s Robinwood Players also put on a preview of their upcoming performance, “Camelot,” which will be staged on Sunday, April 29, at 2:30 p.m.
Sarah Lum of Hagerstown, 18, a music major who is playing the role of Queen Guinevere in “Camelot,” said she loves the practice rooms and the open space in the new building.
“If I want to go work on the piano or music theory I can go do that in one of the practice rooms,” she said. “Last semester our music program was kind of in the classroom building and the advanced technology center.”
Rachael Marion, 23, who is taking her first theater class this semester, said that she also enjoys the practice rooms.
“The rooms are soundproof, so when you’re practicing, you can’t hear other people,” she said. “They are the perfect size if you need to work on something.”
After the theater gathering, there was a presentation of the Kepler sculpture outside of the building and a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Among those in attendance were U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Annabelle Sunderland Kepler, the wife of the late Atlee Kepler, HCC’s first president and the man for whom the building is named.
Timothy Barr of Smithsburg, 19, president of the HCC Robinwood Players Theater Club, gave the presentation for the Kepler sculpture.
He said he has enjoyed taking advantage of the dance studio and other amenities in the new building.
“I took part in the dance studio, and we actually learned a club dance to ‘Move Your Body’ by Beyonce,” he said. “I’ve also taken advantage of the practice rooms, and I’ll be taking advantage of the theater.”
Barr said that the building speaks to how dedicated HCC is to the performing arts.
“It says that HCC is really looking toward the future,” he said. “There are so many people going into the arts, and HCC wants to be a part of that.”
The original building was 15,000 square feet. Now, there’s a 28,000-square-foot addition that includes a two-story Performing and Visual Arts Education Center.
In addition to the 1,500-square-foot black-box theater/dance studio, it has six music practice rooms and an ensemble room, dressing rooms, two classrooms, a multimedia lab, and nine new staff and faculty offices.
The stage of the theater has been extended, and the number of seats increased from 442 to 491. There also are new curtains, and upgraded sound and lighting systems.
“This is probably the most student-oriented performing arts center I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Harsh, a professor of English, speech and theater at HCC. “There are lots of wide-open spaces and lots of individual rooms.”
Daniel Webber, who teaches art, music, and humanities at HCC, said he taught in the building before the renovations and teaches in it now.
“If you hadn’t been in the old building, then there’s no way you could possibly appreciate how much of a change it is to the new building,” he said. “We absolutely love the new building, and all the possibilities of new production and education opportunities.”
Renovations began in December 2010, and the building reopened for classes in January of this year. The total cost of the renovations was $13.3 million, with $2.9 million funded by the county.
HCC President Guy Altieri said the primary reason for the project was the significant enrollment growth in visual and performing arts.
“Although we had an adequate theater, we really did not have classrooms, studio space and dedicated lecture space for the visual and performing arts,” he said. “The renovations have worked out beautifully.”
Altieri noted that enrollment at HCC has been increasing overall.
“For the last 10 years we’ve been the fastest growing of the 16 community colleges percentagewise (in Maryland),” he said. “Even this semester, we’re seeing enrollment increasing based on what the public sees.”
The original building that is now the Kepler Center was constructed in 1978.