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Westminster College performing arts facilities receive a makeover

Students, faculty and staff congregate outside the Florence J. Gillmor Hall expansion in anticipation of the grand opening Sept. 16. The building — which cost $14 million funded by donations, according to a Westminster College press release emailed to faculty and staff — boasts a 26,000 square foot expansion of the performing arts facilities. Photo courtesy of Zidia Gibson.

When senior tech theatre major Briar Woodie first stepped foot inside the new Florence J. Gillmor Hall building earlier this semester, they “just kind of stood there,” absorbing the view. 

“It’s polar opposite of the old brick — which is beautiful in the other building — but it’s just… it looks pristine,” Woodie said. 

Dozens of delicate light fixtures hang from the ceiling, smooth wood paneling covers the walls and an enormous winding staircase leads to a brand-new recital hall. The air is reminiscent of a recently-purchased car: proud, accomplished and ready to be put to use. Westminster College’s latest building is finally here, and ready for showtime.

Florence J. Gillmor Hall boasts a 26,000 square foot expansion of the performing arts facilities, according to Dean of Arts and Sciences Lance Newman at the grand opening Sept. 16. New classrooms, rehearsal and performance spaces, an upgraded costume shop and a student lounge are just a few of the features, totalling $14 million entirely funded by donations, according to a Westminster press release emailed to faculty and staff.

“It’s going to be fantastic for the dancers,” Woodie said. “[…] It’s going to be great for the use and the space and being able to […] separate everyone, because it was kind of like we were bumping elbows [before].”

Prior to the expansion, Westminster dance students attended classes at the Ballet West studio in Trolly Square, according to a past Forum article covering the building construction delays. Woodie said other performing arts students also vied for limited space in the old building.

Students, staff and faculty enter Florence J. Gillmor Hall for the first time at the grand opening Sept. 16. Sydney Jones, a third-year music studies major, said, “We’ve been waiting forever for [the building to open]. The very first time I walked into the big atrium and I got to look all the way up, I was like, ‘This is the fanciest music building I’ve ever been in.’” Photo courtesy of Zidia Gibson.

“[The theatre] costume shop was in the basement with no windows and it was kind of like a dungeon,” Woodie said. “And we would practice in the spaces that we would be performing in. […] If dance kids needed it, or if music was doing something in there, […] it was really hard to be able to have our own spaces to be able to do our own things.”

Sydney Jones, a third-year music studies major, said the new facilities are a “way better space” for musicians, who also felt the strain.

“[In the past] we split the orchestra rehearsal room with the choir, and we always had a little bit of butting heads [over] where the music stands would be, the arrangement of the chairs and having to share the space,” Jones said. “It was just like, learning to share and trying to not step on anyone’s toes.”

Jones and Woodie both dealt with spacing issues for longer than expected: the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent supply chain issues, played a part in delaying the grand opening, according to a previous Forum article.

“We’ve been waiting forever for [the building to open],” Jones said. “The very first time I walked into the big atrium and I got to look all the way up, I was like, ‘This is the fanciest music building I’ve ever been in.’”

President Dobkin said the expansion has received praise since the grand opening Sept. 16.

“I think it showcases our students really well, and our faculty, because we have, of course, talented faculty […], and their collaborations,” President Dobkin said. “It’s gotten a lot of positive attention and fits with our trajectory.”

However, President Dobkin said some details will be refined for at least the next year, a process that’s “not unusual.”

Students, staff and faculty tour the Florence J. Gillmor Hall expansion during the grand opening Sept. 16. The grand staircase leads to the Emma Eccles Jones Recital Hall, a music rehearsal room and offices. “It’s going to be fantastic for the dancers,” said senior tech theatre major Briar Woodie. “It’s going to be great for the use and the space and being able to […] separate everyone, because it was kind of like we were bumping elbows [before].” Photo courtesy of Zidia Gibson.

“There are some spaces that, it happens with any project once you get in and start using it, you realize things need to be tweaked a bit, or something’s not quite right,” President Dobkin said.

Briar Woodie, a senior tech theatre major, said they are familiar with these potential problem areas.

“There is a rehearsal space, but we call it the echo chamber because you can’t say anything because it will echo for eternity,” Woodie said. “For the most part, [the building is] beautiful […] but […] with any building, there’s a couple of things you’re like, ‘Was that the best choice?’”

Regardless, Woodie said they are excited to use the new space for their upcoming performance, “Frankenstein,” which they are designing.

“It’s going to be so fun, it opens in October and so it’s going to be a spooky show for spooky season,” Woodie said. “I think it’ll have people get excited about the season and see the cool new space.”

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Zidia Gibson is a junior communication major and a film studies minor with a love for telling stories. She is proud to be the coordinator for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Life program on campus and to write for The Honorable Mention. She loves petting any cat she sees, hiking the valley and rock climbing with friends, playing video games, and visiting local coffee shops every other day

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