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December 6, 2007


Goodhart Renovation Plan Approved
By Historical Commision, Township

Drawing of Goodhart

On the recommendation of the Lower Merion Historical commission, the township's board of commissioners has unanimously approved renovation plans for 80-year-old Marjorie Walter Goodhart Hall, Director of Facilities Services Glenn Smith reports.

The exterior of the building was restored in 1998, and Goodhart, which is the primary performing-arts facility for the College, is one of 10 structures cited in the Lower Merion Conservancy's "Hall of Fame" of historic buildings. Renovation and improvement of its interior spaces to accommodate students' growing interest in performing arts has been a key priority of the College's Challenging Women campaign.

 In April, the College's board of trustees authorized a $19 million budget for the project.

"We are still working out a few of the details, but the design by Feingold Alexander & Associates has been blessed by the campus planning committee, the historical commission and the township, and we are moving forward," said Smith.

The new design for Goodhart's auditorium is intended to provide greater intimacy for the audience while accommodating a wide range of presentations and performances.  A significant addition will be made to create a new teaching theater. The Music Room, Common Room, classrooms, offices and practice rooms will remain.

"Goodhart auditorium was designed primarily as a place for assembly rather than as a performance space," Smith notes. "When it was built in 1928, the entire campus community could fit into the auditorium. The campus population grew beyond that size long ago, so we needed to re-envision the interior as a space with a different purpose."

"We have worked closely with the arts faculty to assess their needs. The plan includes a teaching theater that is smaller than the auditorium, but the arts program decided against a traditional black-box theater. Instead, the plan for the new teaching theater will reach out to and embrace the interior and exterior spaces that surround it."

The plan will extend the auditorium stage, which is quite small by contemporary standards, into what is now the first several rows of seats; thus the seating capacity of the auditorium will be reduced from about 800 to about 600-650.

The current proscenium arch, which sometimes creates problems because it is so narrow, will become the back of the stage, and the area behind it will serve as a scene shop.

"The space where Hiroshi [Iwasaki, the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Theater Program's technical director] has to work now is so inadequate," Smith says, "that it's really amazing that he is able to create the extraordinary sets that he does."

The scene shop will bridge the main auditorium and the new teaching theater and thus can serve both, Smith says.

The shop will be separated from the main stage by a moveable partition or perhaps a curtain, and the wall between it and the teaching theater will be retractable, so that the entire space can be opened up if necessary.

"Theoretically, you could stand in the back of the balcony and see all the way into the teaching theater," Smith explains.

The addition that contains the teaching theater will be contemporary in appearance. Faced with limestone that is similar in color but not identical to the Wissahickon schist that cloaks the original building, it will take the form of a cube with a semicircular glass entrance.

This is in keeping with contemporary principles of historic preservation and renovation, says Joseph Marra, the College architect and assistant director of facilities for planning and projects.

"The addition will be harmonious with the existing structure, but it won't be disguised as the product of an earlier era," he explains. "It makes the history of the building visible and ensures that we do justice to our own time."
Before actors, dancers and other performers can explore the heights and depths of the human condition on its stages, the project team will oversee the re-plumbing of the building.

"Most of Goodhart's utility systems are original to the building," Smith says. "They're so old that we can't even get the parts to repair a lot of them, and it's really a testament to our maintenance team that they've been able to find creative ways to patch things together and keep systems running."

Plumbing, electrical, and heating and ventilation systems will all be replaced during the renovation.

It is also critical, Smith says, to bring the building up to contemporary standards for fire safety and accessibility. Fire suppression systems will be installed, and ramps and an elevator will be added enabling wheelchair access to areas of the building which were previously inaccessible. 

"We hope to start construction in late spring of 2008 and finish in August of 2009. The 15-month construction schedule is tight, but it will mean that the building is out of commission for only one academic year," says Smith.

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