Houlton arts center to be unveiled at performance of ‘Damn Yankees’

Posted Nov. 18, 2009, at 1:32 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:38 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — When the community turns out this week for the Houlton High School production of “Damn Yankees,” they will see more than just a musical.

Audience members also will see the unveiling of the results of a project that has transformed the high school auditorium into one of the more advanced performing arts spaces in the state.

On Thursday evening, representatives of the Houlton Community Arts Center and SAD 29 will usher an expected capacity crowd into its new 600-seat auditorium.

In 2005, officials with the district’s music department unveiled a proposal for a fine arts wing at the high school. Thursday’s debut of the renovated theater will mark the completion of the first of three phases of the $5 million project officially creating the Houlton Community Arts Center.

Last summer, crews began gutting the old auditorium. Old seats, theater lighting, sound equipment and the control booth were removed, and all electrical systems were revamped.

The completion of the first phase has created an auditorium with more seating, better acoustics and upgraded features. The new space also will allow meetings and community events. It features an expanded stage area and wrap-around mezzanine for extra seating, together with an increased number of accessible seats and path-ways to the lobby, stage and backstage areas. The lobby features a concession stand designed in the shape of a cello. Other improvements were made to the control booth, backstage support spaces, catwalks and more.

Design Group Collaborative, with offices in Ellsworth and Portland, provided architectural design and project management for the first phase.

“We were very happy with the results of the project,” Carla Haskell, lead architect and project manager, said Tuesday. “School projects are always large, and this project touches so many people. The students, the staff, and the entire community are going to benefit from this.”

It was, Haskell said, “a long process.”

“We started work on a design and master plan three years ago,” she said. “It took about a year to do phase one of the project, and there were no real snags or bumps in the road. Renovations are tricky and there are always tight timelines, but I think that everyone involved in this should be credited for their hard work.”

There are two steps to go before the creation of the new Houlton Community Arts Center is complete.

Once finished, the 13,000-square-foot arts center will feature the expanded and renovated auditorium, along with more storage space, improved acoustics and separate band, chorus, theater and dance space. The extra space will mean that rehearsals and activities for several groups can be conducted simultaneously.

The nonprofit Houlton Community Arts Center Council is working to raise half of the $5 million needed to create the center through phases two and three.

The other half of the arts center money will come from a $5 million bond proposal SAD 29 voters approved in the fall of 2007. The remaining $2.5 million from the bond will pay for renovations at the high school, most of which have been completed.

Taxes in the district will not increase as a result of the bond being passed. Funds allocated for annual renovations at the high school will pay the annual interest and principal on the bond.

Joe Fagnant, the high school’s music department chairman and president of the Houlton Community Arts Center Council, also was pleased with the completion of phase one.

“We see this as the beginning of a renaissance for Houlton, a community that has always had a strong commitment to the arts, especially for our young people,” he said.

The opening of “Damn Yankees” and the unveiling of the new auditorium will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 22.