Theater fulfills arts group's long quest Center to open in Feb. in Wilde Lake High


Ten years ago, members of the Howard County Arts Council could only dream of a new countywide performing arts center that would provide a high-profile venue for plays, concerts and other events.

On Wednesday, they and other supporters of the arts toured the nearly completed Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts, named after Columbia's late founder and due to open in February in a wing of the new Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

The $1.6 million, 750-seat performance center, built with public and private contributions, boasts a high-tech stage and lighting system, three dressing rooms, a makeup room and a theater office, among other features.

Its central location is expected to make it a focal point of the community, as well as provide an important resource for performing arts programs at Wilde Lake High School itself.

"People pulled together," said Michael Galeone, president of the Howard County Arts Council and executive vice president of Columbia Bank, which contributed $20,000 to the project. "It's a real achievement."

The 12,492-square-foot performing arts center is the product of a coalition of artists, arts educators, local and state government officials and businesses that worked together closely during a period of downsizing and limited government funds.

The demolition of the aged Wilde Lake High School in 1994 and the construction of a new school on the same site provided a one-time opportunity to make the dream of a new performing arts center a reality, arts supporters say.

The original Wilde Lake High School auditorium had served as a community and regional performing arts center, often as the site of events by the Howard County Arts Council.

As a result, the new school was seen as the right location for a performing arts center.

"Not only did we talk to the arts educators, but we took surveys of the general public," said Mary Toth, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council. "We know that arts education was high on the general public's agenda."

With support from Howard County public schools, the Board of Education, county government and private investors, the project moved forward in 1994.

Funding included $400,000 from the state, $400,000 from private sources and $800,000 from the county.

On Wednesday, about 45 supporters toured the center, including Patty Rouse, widow of James W. Rouse, Howard County Council members, state lawmakers and representatives of the businesses that donated money for the project.

The tour was led by Walt Kunz, lead architect from the Baltimore firm of Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet Inc., which designed the high school.

The project includes an intimate theater with a separate entrance from the high school and a 40- by-40-foot professional-size stage near 500 upholstered seats on the main floor and 250 upholstered seats in the balcony.

Because an orchestra pit would have cost $180,000, Kunz said the builders instead decided on an area in front of the theater for the orchestra.

Wheelchair seating is provided, with ramps on the sides of the theater that allow the disabled to go directly to the stage when desired.

The sound and lighting equipment is more sophisticated than the system at the former Wilde Lake High.

Heating and air-conditioning equipment is enclosed within a room that keeps sounds from interfering with performances.

The system operates separately from that for the rest of the school.

Kunz said that student use of the theater will be for "functions suitable to the space" rather than such activities as school assemblies and pep rallies.

In the new school, the arts spaces were reorganized into an arts wing, which includes a theater used for instruction, band room, choral room, visual arts studio and a fully equipped dance studio that Kunz said was unique in county schools.

The arts wing will be ready for student use when school opens.

After the tour, Pete Mangione, general manager of Turf Valley Hotel and Conference Center in Ellicott City, and Regina Ford, director of marketing and public relations for Mangione Family Enterprises, were enthusiastic about the new performing arts center.

Mangione Family Enterprises contributed to the center.

"It's money well spent," said Ford. "We can't wait to see the first performance."

The Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts will be dedicated Feb. 22 during a dessert reception.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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