$21M Seton Hill performing arts center will open doors for classes today
What began as just a dream more than 70 years ago will become a high-tech reality today when Seton Hill University's $21 million performing arts center opens its doors for classes.
The building, with vibrant multicolored interior walls and ground-level instruction rooms designed to complement state-of-the-art performance stages on the first floor, awaits 250 Seton undergraduates at the corner of West Otterman Street and Harrison Avenue in downtown Greensburg's cultural district.
"I just can't wait until the students are in the building," Seton Hill President JoAnne Boyle said during a recent tour.
"We're supplementing what's (already) here," Boyle said of such cultural attractions as the Palace Theatre, about a block away. "Part of the vision was to add life and light to the downtown."
The sprawling, 73,000-square-foot building houses mostly faculty offices and classrooms on the ground level. Practice rooms, where students can sing or play instruments, have walls specially designed for soundproofing.
"You have a hint of something going on, but you won't hear the sound," said Curt Scheib, director of the university's division of visual and performing arts.
A "trap room" on the ground floor is connected to the 200-person flexible theater above and allows students to lower sections of the stage floor to accommodate performances. The seats and stage in the flexible theater can be adjusted to fit audiences of various sizes with various needs.
Also on the ground floor are the makeup rooms and costume areas, where student actors will prepare for performances. The floor also has computers labs and an orchestra pit that can be raised or lowered, adding drama to performances above.
Boyle said an aim of the design was to give students experience and skills that they can use in real-world musicals or dramatic performances.
On the first floor, when the doors under the flashing lights of the marque open, visitors will step into a spacious carpeted lobby.
A few more steps and the doors to the 400-person concert hall swing open, revealing red chairs, surround-sound speakers and a ceiling at least three stories high.
"It's really a wonderful, intimate place," Scheib said.
To the right is the smaller, flexible theater. To the left is a large concession area.
A professional-grade scene and paint shop also is on the first floor, along with some performance and classroom spaces.
Faculty started moving into the facility in July and began to familiarize themselves with the array of new technology at their disposal.
"We've been busy ever since," Scheib said.
The lofty task of moving numerous grand pianos, including 15 new ones, into the performance center started during the summer.
The $21 million price tag includes $19.6 million in construction costs and $1.4 million in acquisition and site preparation expenses.
As of late July, $20.9 million had been raised for center, with about 60 percent of funding coming from private donations and 40 percent from federal and state grants, university officials said.
The center also will host the university's community music program, which offers various music lessons to an expected 200 to 250 Westmoreland County residents at a cost.
University officials expect the center to be in use from 6 a.m. into the late-night hours on some days.
Scheib said the center may offer different performances on the same night, with different start times.
"There's so much going on," he said. "It won't be every night, but there'll be nights that both (concert hall and flexible theater) will have something going on."
Boyle noted that building a performance center has been discussed by university or community leaders for more than 70 years.
"It's been a long time coming," Boyle said. "It's always been a dream, a gleam in somebody's eye, and now we have it."