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Work gets underway for the 24,000-square foot Center for Performing Arts at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville's Academy Heights neighborhood. Construction is expected to finish by December 2020, according to school officials. (Courtesy of Mount de Sales Academy)
Work gets underway for the 24,000-square foot Center for Performing Arts at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville's Academy Heights neighborhood. Construction is expected to finish by December 2020, according to school officials. (Courtesy of Mount de Sales Academy) (Baltimore Sun)

Shovels have hit the dirt on a $10 million Center for Performing Arts and Student Life at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, the last piece of a broader project to upgrade facilities at one of the Baltimore area’s oldest educational facility still in use.

Those who drive past the campus along Northdale Road today will see backhoes landscaping a vacant plot beyond the gates. By December 2020, the school hopes to open the doors to its first performing arts center, fit to host 600 people in a two-level auditorium, said Karen von Lange, communications director at the private all-girls school.

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Attendance at the Academy Heights neighborhood school has grown significantly since its founding as a boarding school in 1852, von Lange said. Now with more than 500 students and a robust arts program, more campus space is neededto accommodate them.

The Catholic school’s fine arts department includes visual, dance, choir, orchestral and theater classes as well as extracurricular programs. Currently, those groups must practice in classrooms and rotate rehearsals at the academy’s century-old Music Hall, according to Mark Cohagan, the academy’s director of operations.

The new 24,000-square-foot building will have instructional spaces for orchestra, chorus and dance classes; two dedicated practice rooms for student performers; a scene shop and storage space for technical theater students; a 400-seat fixed lower-level orchestral section with a mezzanine that has movable seating for multipurpose use that can accommodate 200 patrons; and a control room for audio, lighting and visual equipment, von Lange said.

A rendering of Mount de Sales Academy's Center for Performing Arts, currently under construction at the Catonsville private school.
A rendering of Mount de Sales Academy's Center for Performing Arts, currently under construction at the Catonsville private school. (Baltimore Sun)

The performing arts center also will feature gallery space to showcase student artists, who currently display their work in a gallery hallway at the Mount de Sales’ library, said Kelly Cardall, a teacher and director in the academy’s theater department and Mount de Sales alumna.

The center’s completion is “a big deal for our drama program,” which currently uses the stage at the nearby Mount Saint Joseph High School for its spring musical, von Lange said.

“We are essentially like a touring company, where we do most of the rehearsal process here at school in classrooms” before they’re able to block the show on the Mount Saint Joseph stage, Cardall said.

Because they share a stage with Mount Saint Joseph, Cardall said the academy’s theater program only has the ability to perform one show per year; once the Center for Performing Arts is complete, Cardall hopes to put on a main stage production in the winter in addition to the academy’s spring musical, she said.

Having the additional space could lead to more engagement with the school’s neighbors, von Lange said. For instance, the center could benefit the Academy Heights Civic Association, which holds monthly meetings at the school, she said.

Funded through donations, von Lange said a “big selling point” for the Mount de Sales school board was that the center’s construction should not impact tuition rates. Tuition is $15,250 for the year, von Lange said.

Loose plans for the performing arts center have been in the works since around 2002. A campus-wide space assessment set in motion the academy’s $12 million capital campaign, which last year funded an expansion of the Chapel of St. Francis de Sales and funded renovations to half of the fourth floor of the school’s main building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The school is still trying to raise $800,000 toward the center’s construction, von Lange said.

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