BRUNSWICK, Maine — At the moment, Bowdoin College’s planned Longfellow Arts Building is little more than a storm of concrete forms, framing and sawdust.
When the cement cures and the paint dries, however, administrators from the illustrious school envision a fourth and final point on the campus’ artistic compass.
The college has begun renovation of the former Longfellow Elementary School, which closed in 2010 and snugs up to Bowdoin’s southern side, for conversion into a visual arts center. The new building will localize the college’s currently disparate arts programs into one home.
At present, the arts are scattered among six buildings — both on campus and dotting the neighborhoods afield of Maine Street, from Fort Andross to Brunswick Station.
Once the occupancy permits are issued — college officials hope that will be in time for the 2013-14 academic year — all the school’s digital photography, painting, printmaking, 3-D graphics, drafting and dance programs will live there. The facility also will house studio, gallery and performance space for faculty and students.
Longfellow Arts Building, named in honor of the poet who matriculated in 1825, is its working title.
That may change, according to music professor and Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd.
But probably not.
When first built in the 1920s, the building’s original structure was no more than three connected rooms. Additions through the years — particularly in the 1940s and 1980s — increased its footprint to two stories and 38,000 square feet. But its physical configuration of classrooms ringing a central gymnasium space fits well into Bowdoin’s plans, said project manager Don Borkowski.
“The building’s really a big, square doughnut,” Borkowski said, gesturing into the central pit that used to house the gym and eventually will be the center for dance and performance.
Concrete forms and workmen now crowd that space, setting the pieces that eventually will support 6,000 square feet of dance floor space.
“They poured something like 6,000 cubic yards of concrete [Friday],” Borkowski said Friday during a walkthrough of the cavernous space.
Pieces recycled, reused
Massachusetts firm Cambridge Seven Associates Inc. created the blueprints, which call for removing ceilings to expose trusses, beams and ductwork for a sense of open, airy space within the corridors. As many pieces will be recycled and reused as possible, such as half-round spoked windows on the second floor and sections of massive 12- by 18-inch timber support beams.
By removing overhead barriers and opening up performance space, the Longfellow Arts Building will be increased to 44,000 square feet of usable space, Borkowski said.
The entire project is funded by a $6 million bond, floated by the college in July 2012.
Bowdoin acquired the building in December 2011 in a three-way land swap brokered by Brunswick Development Corp. In the same deal, the town received the McLellan Building on Union Street, which eventually will house its municipal offices, as well as land for the new police station currently under construction at the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant streets.
Bowdoin got the old school building, as well as use of McLellan’s third floor until 2025.
Finally, Brunswick Development Corp. will get the current town office building on Federal Street once the town moves into McLellan and the new police station.
“It’s really a beautiful space, with big windows, tall ceiling height and such wonderful natural light, it’s perfect for our needs,” Collins Judd said.
She’s also excited about the geographic symbolism.
With Pickard Theater and Memorial Hall to the north, Studzinski Recital Hall to the east, the Museum of Art to the west and the refurbished building to be completed to the south, “It’s almost a perfect diamond, an intersection of the arts throughout the campus,” she said.