Bowdoin College carves out new home for visual, performing arts

Don Borkowski, director of capital projects at Bowdoin College, examines steel supports in the first floor of the old gymnasium at the former Longfellow School in Brunswick. The gym has been gutted and will soon include two stories -- a digital media lab on the first floor and the dance department on the second floor.
Don Borkowski, director of capital projects at Bowdoin College, examines steel supports in the first floor of the old gymnasium at the former Longfellow School in Brunswick. The gym has been gutted and will soon include two stories -- a digital media lab on the first floor and the dance department on the second floor. Buy Photo
Posted March 12, 2013, at 4:55 p.m.
Last modified March 12, 2013, at 5:16 p.m.
An artist's rendering shows the exterior of the newly renovated Longfellow Arts building at Bowdoin College, due to open in the fall of 2013.
An artist's rendering shows the exterior of the newly renovated Longfellow Arts building at Bowdoin College, due to open in the fall of 2013. Buy Photo
The old Longfellow School library, on the second floor facing Longfellow Street, will become a drawing studio.
The old Longfellow School library, on the second floor facing Longfellow Street, will become a drawing studio. Buy Photo

BRUNSWICK, Maine — With renovations for the former Longfellow Elementary School well under way and plans for a residence hall in a former nursing home just awaiting planning board approval, Bowdoin College is changing the face of its campus — most visibly in the new Longfellow Arts Building on Longfellow Avenue.

Designed to bring visual and performing arts programs from six different buildings together, the new $6 million arts center will provide “synergy,” according to S. Catherine Longley, senior vice president for finance and administration & treasurer at Bowdoin, and house dance, digital media labs and photography labs, 3D art studios, printmaking, drawing and other visual arts all under one roof.

“Right now, we have all the visual art and dance in disparate spaces,” said Cristle Collins Judd, dean for academic affairs at the private liberal arts college, during a tour of the building Friday. “Now, we can have them all in one space.”

Bowdoin acquired the former elementary school in December 2011 as part of a trade with the town of Brunswick for the McLellan Building.

Renovations and expansion of the 38,129-square-foot structure, which began Dec. 1, 2012, will bring the center to 44,850 square feet.

Most notable for parents, students and alums, the gymnasium has been filled with hundreds of supports, holding up what will be a second floor to house the dance department.

On Friday, contractors readied the frame for 250 cubic yards — 750,000 to 1 million pounds — of cement they will pour to create the floor

The former library, on the old school’s second floor overlooking Longfellow Avenue, will provide a sunny space for drawing, while the first floor will house the digital media lab, 3D art studios and photography lab.

Surrounding classrooms will provide studio spaces, and 9-foot wide hallways offer areas for displaying artwork, said Collins Judd.

“The wide corridors for an arts building are such a gift,” she said.

“And the bones are good,” Longley said, referring to the building’s existing structure.

In fact, much of the original building will be exposed and displayed, from beams and ductwork to original brickwork and beadboard walls. Shelves that likely held arts and crafts supplies, and floors tiled for circle groups, will remain.

The main entrance of the building will be moved to the South Street side, to face the campus, and it will be lowered to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Tim Hanley, a member of Bowdoin’s class of 2015, served on the committee for the renovation of the new arts building.

An environmental studies and visual arts major, he hopes to study architecture in graduate school, and attended meetings with college administrators and architecture firm Cambridge Seven Associates Inc.

Hanley, from Falmouth, and fellow student Emma Scott, a member of the class of 2013 from Berkeley, Calif., sat in on meetings with architects and staff members to offer input into the building process.

“[A] primary concern of ours as student representatives was how to make the building become part of the campus without feeling disconnected from other main avenues and frequented buildings on campus,” Hanley wrote in an email. “Having all of the visual arts facilities contained within a single facility on campus will not only make life easier for students taking visual arts classes, but will make the visual arts department less of a mystery to other students on campus.

Connie Lundquist of the College Neighbors Association said she is “thrilled with the building’s use as an arts center, and has heard “nothing but positive things from neighbors ever since the college withdrew — at the neighbors’ request — a suggestion that they be allowed to use it for recreational purposes.

She’s also excited that the college has promised to keep the former school’s playground open to the public for the time being.

The Longfellow Arts Center is due to open in the fall of 2013.

Stevens Home

Bowdoin also hopes to renovate a nearby former 16-bed nursing home into a residence hall, pending approval by the Brunswick Planning Board to amend the zoning ordinance.

The expansion hinges on approval by the town planning board to change the ordinance to allow residence halls in that zone. Some neighbors have objected, however, and are expected to speak Tuesday night at a Planning Board hearing.

Lundquist, of the College Neighbors Association, said residents differ on their opinions — particularly those who live immediately next to the Stevens Home.

Bowdoin has offered to create a “chem-free” residence, she said, which would eliminate much of the potential noise, and put an organic garden in the backyard, but Lundquist said, “Changing the zone, to me, is a big deal … if that’s what the town plan is, then so be it, but I really hope the planning board views it in a much larger sense and recognizes that if you change that little zone to permit student housing, you’re pretty much giving away the zone.”

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