Maryland Hall renovations

The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis will undergo an $18 million renovation project to modernize and improve its performing arts wing. The first phase will take place beginning in June and will include the renovation of the theater¿s orchestra level seating and upgrades to the stage area. (Rendering by Ziger Snead Architects, Courtesy Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts / February 3, 2014)

J. Ernest Green, musical director of the Annapolis Chorale, has been performing with his group at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts since 1985.

And for those nearly 30 years, Green has thought the facility has needed significant help.

"Oh, I noticed it immediately," he said. "As soon as I got there."

Maryland Hall is housed in the former Annapolis High School building on Chase Street, constructed in 1932. The community arts hub took over the space in 1979, and its leadership team is now planning a five-year, $18 million renovation for the building, which has seen few updates in its history.

Officials at the center note that performers over the years have complained that the current state of the theater includes shoddy acoustics and a poor layout.

"It's quite difficult for the musicians to hear each other on stage," said Jose-Luis Novo, conductor of the Annapolis Symphony and a nine-year veteran of Maryland Hall. "The renovations are paramount."

Novo and Green say a shortage of performance venues in the area — as well as their loyalty to Maryland Hall — keep them returning to the facility despite the shortcomings.

"It's the only game in town," Green said. "But we're all part of this community, so we support Maryland Hall."

Both men, who were consulted on the proposal, are pleased with the vision to modernize the building.

Novo called it "long overdue," and Green said the renovations "will undoubtedly bring Maryland Hall to a new level as a first-rate arts center."

The nonprofit Maryland Hall serves more than 100,000 patrons annually. It generally hosts between 700 and 800 arts classes a year, running between six and eight weeks for students of all levels. It also holds 125 to 150 performances and events in its main theater, presented primarily by local organizations such as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Annapolis Opera, the Annapolis Chorale, the Ballet Theatre of Maryland and the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra.

The hall also occasionally serves as a venue for community gatherings.

Linnell Bowen, president of Maryland Hall, said the heavy use of the space indicates the time is right for a major update.

"We truly want to make this a world-class experience," she said.

"As we celebrate our 35th anniversary this year, it only seems fitting that we embark on a milestone project that will enhance and expand creative opportunities for everyone in our community for generations to come."

As part of the initial effort beginning in June, the community arts center will allocate $2 million to update its main theater's orchestra level, which will include new seats and seating arrangements, construction of a pit recess and a stage extension.

The first phase is scheduled for completion in mid-September and "vastly improves the experience for both patrons and performers," Bowen said.

Lee Finney, president of Annapolis Opera, said the group is excited about the first-phase improvements.

"Most important to the opera is the addition of an orchestra recess, or pit, which will make the sight lines to the stage excellent from all seats," Finney said.

Future plans include construction of two theater wing additions and the creation of a new 150-seat community theater for student projects, recitals, lectures and other events.

"Our audiences have grown," Bowen said. "People today want amenities."

Maryland Hall received $4.75 million in seed money from the state to start the project and is running a capital campaign to raise the remaining funds from individual, corporate and government entities.

Leslie Edinberg, vice president for finance and operations for Maryland Hall, said the response has been positive.

"We have good supporters in the community," Edinberg said. "But we need financial support as well."

The building is owned by Anne Arundel County public schools, but Maryland Hall has a long-term lease on it, which is why the staff is undertaking such a hefty endeavor.

"We've only had to renew [the lease] once or twice in 35 years," Edinberg said. "We expect to continue to keep it going."

For more information on Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, go to marylandhall.org or call 410-263-5544, ext. 10.

nadavis@baltsun.com