U-Md. students designing performing arts center for North Beach

February 20, 2013

More than 40 University of Maryland, College Park, architecture students are creating environmentally conscious designs for a proposed performing arts center in North Beach.

On Feb. 8, the students and their professors met with North Beach residents and community leaders to discuss the town’s regulations for designs and development, and how the community wants the center to look. Mayor Mark Frazer said the town connected with the architecture class months ago through Aaron Warren, a resident on the town’s steering committee who is enrolled in the architecture program. Frazer said Warren “enabled us to make that link,” and then there were two other members on the committee who are registered architects who were able to assist in making the connection.

“We’re looking at research and design strategies to see what is it that we can do,” professor Luis Diego Quiros said during his presentation to the community. “It’s not about building things, but about proposing natural elements, natural systems that will actually protect the coast.”

Specifically, the class is looking at designing and adapting the town’s infrastructure as sea levels rise because of climate change.

A news release from the town says the results “are expected to offer potential clues as to how towns can prepare community members to understand and deal with the possible environmental changes.”

The students have three possible sites for their performing arts center design, said E. Phillip McCormick, an architect and professional planner with North Beach. The first site is Fifth Street and Bay Avenue; the second is Seventh Street and Bay Avenue; and the newest is Third Street and Chesapeake Avenue. Town Engineer and Zoning Administrator John Hofmann told the students that two locations are in the flood zone.

Grace Mary Brady of the Bayside History Museum gave a short presentation about the town’s history.

“We constantly evolve. We constantly adapt,” she told the students, adding that many of the existing buildings’ uses have changed. “This was the Ocean City for Maryland, D.C., and Virginia until they built the Bay Bridge.”

Brady told the students the town “goes underwater frequently” and to take into account frequent mold and mildew problems when deciding building materials.

Michael Hartman, an architect on the town’s planning commission, gave a presentation on the town’s comprehensive plan. He described the town as a “vibrant and very engaged . . . resort town.”

“We want to see more of mixed communities and mixed development,” such as living spaces above commercial and retail shops, he said.

Hofmann, who gave a brief presentation about the town’s zoning and infrastructure, said about half of the town is in the critical area, which is important to consider when designing the performing arts center.

He said there are several zoning districts in the town: one residential; two residential and mixed-use; one neighborhood commercial; one town center commercial; one waterfront; and one that’s park and recreational.

“What you’re going to be doing is really an extension of” the town’s master plan, McCormick said of the students’ work. “Part of what your challenge is, is to see how to resolve” the issue of flooding in the most densely developed areas.

The students also heard from Peggy McKelly, vice president of the North Beach Performing Arts Center Foundation, and Sid Curl, president of the Twin Beach Players, about how the space would be used and how they visualize it.

McKelly told the students that the foundation envisions a center “anchored” by local arts but used occasionally for national acts.

“We want it to be a draw for the area. We want it to be a facility that really draws people and then keeps them here to explore the community,” she said.

Curl told the class to take into account that young children will use the center, as well. He also told them to “accommodate equity” with the dressing rooms, showers and a sound and lighting booth.

“We want to be able to accommodate all the arts,” such as theater, music and dance, Curl said. He emphasized that safety needs to be incorporated into the design.

Hartman told the students an arts center and a theater is “a grand, ceremonial building,” something to take into account when designing. “We don’t want it to be an eyesore, but it really is a signature building of the town.”

Frazer said Feb. 11 that the town covered the students’ transportation costs to and from the town. He said he might make the project a contest for the students to generate more interest.

Frazer said he is considering prize money in the range of $1,000 for first place.

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