With an anticipated opening in the Fall of 2024, construction on the Alice Dodge Wallace '38 Center for the Performing Arts is well underway. Follow along for an inside look at the historic renovation and expansion of the Alumnae Chapel into a state-of-the-art hub for the arts at Emma Willard.
"Advancing the Arts" is a key fundraising priority of Infinite Horizon: The Campaign for Emma Willard School. At the public launch of the campaign in May of 2022, the campus community learned of the inspirational $30 million gift made by alumna Alice Dodge Wallace '38 (1920-2020) to fund the construction of a new performing arts center and create a gathering space fit to hold the entire campus community.
Work on the new Wallace Center began almost immediately in the summer of 2022 and, under the careful guidance of Annum Architects and Consigli Construction, has progressed steadily over the last year. The heart of Mount Ida has been transformed into a hub of activity and progress, with simultaneous construction efforts underway on the renovation of the Chapel and the excavation of the subterranean Arts Annex wing located behind it. Once complete, the Annex will provide both the physical connection between the new Klingenstein Concert Hall to Snell-Dietel-Maguire and the programmatic tie-in via new dance, theatre, and music practice spaces.
Entering the current construction site, one can already envision the multiple points of entry to the Wallace Center: from Kellas Hall to the Northwest into the below-ground Arts Annex, from the Northeast into the Chapel porch via a sidewalk over the Annex green roof, from the West directly off The Triangle through the original Chapel entry, and via the new Elisabeth "Lisa" LeFort '72 & Robert "Jack" LeFort Atrium from the South. The LeFort Atrium will provide the main point of ingress for those attending performances and visiting the facility, and a stunning view of the sports fields and Berkshires to the East of campus thanks to its all-glass construction.
Walking down into the excavation site of the Annex, one immediately notices the sweeping height of the ceilings in the practice spaces for dance and music, adorned with special acoustical paneling. Natural light is provided through transom windows along the top of each wall but will also be adjusted by electric-powered shades for different purposes, especially in the experimental "lab" theatre space in the center of the Annex. Since most of the site is below grade, a green roof will cover the finished building up to its peak and allow access to the campus community and visitors.
Scott Kosnick, Emma Willard's director of facilities construction management and planning, notes that the school's construction partners, Consigli, create mock-ups of the exterior construction elements in miniature on the ground to ensure proper assembly and a feel for the aesthetic before installing them on the building. Complementing the aesthetic of the existing campus is a crucial component of the Wallace Center build. This work has been ably led since the project's outset by renowned architect Ann Beha and her team at Annum Architects, who specialize in historic renovation and preservation.
Continuing from the Annex, one has to imagine they are walking westerly through a new, below-ground passageway and straight into the new Klingenstein Concert Hall. Here, the iconic wood trusses and stone walls now rise three stories high overhead as you stand at the bottom of what was once the indoor pool of the original Emma Willard gymnasium (before it was converted to a Chapel after World War II). The currently empty space only serves to highlight the craftsmanship evident throughout the original structure: hand-hewn timbers with mortise and tenon joints, expert and exquisite masonry work, and towering banks of leaded glass windows on each exterior wall.
"The folks who raised this building sure knew what they were doing," explains Mr. Kosnick. "We might not use the same tools or techniques today, but they built this with care and they built it to last...we want to ensure our work here honors and extends theirs."
He then points to wireless seismometers mounted throughout the interior of the new space, noting that they serve as the first warning system should any vibration from the ongoing construction impact the structural integrity of the hundred-year-old walls of the Chapel. In addition, the one-of-a-kind Noack baroque organ (designed by Fritz Noack, father of Wiebke Noack Theodore '77) has been painstakingly preserved throughout the process and sits fully encased by protective paneling.
Once complete, the Concert Hall will feature seating for up to 450 and a modular stage setup allowing for three different configurations, depending on the scope and scale of a performance. In addition to performances, a critical need in the campus community will be met with this space by offering the entirety of the school body a place to commune together for assemblies, Morning Reports, and guest speakers.
Continuing on to the second floor, a new lobby is situated at the end of the current Chapel hallway along with contemporary accessibility features like an elevator and ground-level entry via the LeFort Atrium. The West-facing stone patio will soon be enclosed with glass and provide a 180-degree view of the new Annex, while an additional "flex-room" will be situated at the end of the hall.
Finally, arriving at the balcony of the top floor, one can truly appreciate the magnitude of the new space and imagine the efforts of so many to make this project possible. To share in an extraordinary home such as this also takes incredible care. We thank all the Emma Willard alumnae and donors who are making this project possible through their support!
To learn more about the Alice Dodge Wallace '38 Center for the Performing Arts and the many ways you can help support the Infinite Horizon campaign, visit the campaign microsite.
- arts center
- campus beauty
- infinite horizon
- performing arts