Large cranes, dirt ditches and workers wearing hard hats are now a common sight inside a perimeter of a chain-link fence on the campus of Westminster College.
Students and administrators of Westminster College shared their enthusiasm and concerns as construction on the Florence J. Gillmor Hall — an expansion of the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts — continues.
Spencer Brown, technical director of Jewett, shared details of what students can expect to see from Gillmore.
Brown teaches computer-aided drafting, stage management, lighting design and the theatre senior seminar.
According to Brown, Gillmor will be a three-level building: The bottom level will have between 12 and 15 music practice rooms, some of which can be shared with theatre students. The building will also feature a large theatre rehearsal space that mimics the Jay W. Lee’s Courage Theater.
The second floor will be dedicated to the dance program. It will include a large dance performance space with a retractable wall in the middle to create classrooms or a performance space, along with retractable seating.
“It’s going to be a really nice space for the dance department,” Brown said. “Our dance program has really grown here a lot, we’ve only had it about six years or so, and with this new dance space I think you’re gonna see it grow even more.”
The third floor will have a chamber music performance space and a choir rehearsal room.
Student excitement and concerns
“I am ecstatic about the construction of Jewett,” said Justin Ibarra, a junior vocal performance major. “I feel like especially as we progress and our education and art forms progress, our surroundings need to progress with us.”
Ibarra said he is not only excited for him and his fellow music students, but also for dance, art and theatre students. Being able to study in the same space will be beneficial for their work, he said.
“This means collaboration, and when artists collaborate, we can start reaching out to everyone to collaborate,” Ibarra said.
Although the additions to the building are funded only by donations, some students have expressed concerns about the construction coming after the recent tuition increase.
“As we progress and our education and art forms progress, our surroundings need to progress with us.”
Westminster officials have previously told students the donations for the project were specifically earmarked by donors for the Gillmor Hall construction.
“As much as I’m excited about getting new practice rooms, new rehearsal rooms and new classrooms, I don’t necessarily know if it’s the right time,” said Dante Clavere, a junior music studies major.
History of the plan
However, Spencer Brown said the project has been in the works for years.
“I was asked to serve on the committee when we started planning this several years ago,” said Brown. “Actually, this has been on-and-off for quite a few years.”
Westminster officials didn’t want to commit to breaking ground until they had the budget to finish the project, according to Brown. However, once the school got enough donations, they pulled the trigger, he said.
“Really what got the ball rolling was we got enough donations,” Brown said. “From my understanding, in financial times when things were better, the school would start projects before they had all the money, but — it being more difficult these days — they felt like that would be taking a big risk.”
Interruptions on campus
“Oddly enough, when we knew we were going to do this [upgrade] I was a little concerned because right now I haven’t been able to get stuff into my shop very easily,” he said.
Brown said he hopes the construction will be completed by Fall 2021 so students in performing arts can get back to regular schedules.
“We talked about ways to deal with this and we weren’t looking forward to it but because of COVID and the lack of being able to do what we normally do has kind of scaled things back, and in some ways, this has been the perfect time to do it,” Brown said.
Because the pandemic has shifted several classes online, Brown said the timing worked out.
“In my opinion, it’ll work out for the best honestly,” Brown said.