Artists engaged in summer dance performances at the Howard County Arts Center routinely encounter unexpected sound effects: the scrunch of tires in the parking lot, the voices of gabbing latecomers, even dogs barking in nearby back yards.

The noises filter in through windows kept open because of a lack of air conditioning at the former elementary school. And even with the windows open, temperatures in the center's small, bright theater can reach 100 degrees during performances, center officials say.

"It can be very disruptive," said Mary Toth, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council.

To remedy such conditions, the council has asked the state and county to split the cost of a $500,000 renovation of the facility in north Ellicott City, built in 1961. The money, if granted, would pay for the redesign of the building's lobby and the improvement and expansion of its theater and art galleries.

Newly elected Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said Tuesday he will ask for $250,000 -- the share that the county has been asked to pay -- in his next capital budget request. Members of the county's congressional delegation have expressed support for the request, and were scheduled to meet yesterday to discuss it.

The center, known until recently as Rockland Arts Center, is overdue for renovation, Toth said. "It looks more like an elementary school" than an arts center, she said. "Utilitarian is the word that describes it."

The center, which has been at its current location since 1983, houses the Kinetics Dance Theater, 22 different artists and performance groups and three art galleries. About 8 to 10 performances a year are given there.

Some of the money being sought would pay for basics. There are no dressing rooms or showers for performers at the 100-seat theater, for example. "Some companies simply won't perform in a space like this," Toth said.

Also, it's difficult for dance and drama companies to profit from performances at a 100-seat venue.

If approved, the funding probably won't be made available until July, Toth said.

A cultural needs survey done last year found that residents want additional space for dramatic arts in the county.