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Gem Reborn at Western Maryland


At last week's dedication of the Clementine and Duane L. Peterson Hall on the Western Maryland College campus, several hundred people attended a beautiful wedding -- between aesthetics and historical preservation. The rehabilitation of the 86-year-old fine arts building showed vitality can be restored to a grand old building with adequate resources, architectural sensitivity and plenty of common sense.

The building was designed as a library in 1909 by Jackson C. Gott, a Baltimore architect who also designed five other structures at the Western Maryland campus as well as the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. In 1962, the library became the college's fine arts building.

Over time, the interior of the neoclassical structure was carved into classrooms and studios. Years of dust and grime darkened a bright stained-glass skylight on the second floor. This jewel of a building looked dingy and in need of a make-over.

By donating $1 million, centenarian philathropist Clementine L. Peterson enabled the college to restore the building to its former grandeur and also to make it a more functional and accessible facility.

Centerbrook Architects of Essex, Conn., executed the project with a deft touch. Original architectural features such as the white pine paneling and ornate interior moldings were retained. The architects also upgraded the building but preserved its early 20th century feel. For example, the new elevator, which makes all three floors accessible to the disabled, is a good example of an unobtrusive modernization that enhances the building's utility.

The restoration of the top floor into a bright and airy exhibition gallery is a striking achievement. The cleaned and restored stained-glass skylight baths the room in sunlight. The old woodwork juxtaposes well with the modern fixtures. Western Maryland will be able to exhibit its own collection of fine arts as well as touring exhibits in the space, which will be called Gallery One. The current exhibition of Asian ivory and wood carvings, pre-Colombian pottery and Pacific figurines from the Albert and Eva Blum Collection as well as contemporary sculptures by H.I. Gates constitutes an admirable start.

Western Maryland -- the college and the community -- should be quite proud of this fine restoration.

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