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New Center for the Arts taking shape

Versatility and transparency at heart of project

By Anika Pepper

Two years ago it was just an idea. A year ago it was a series of blueprints going through the Crested Butte design review process. Today the new Crested Butte Center for the Arts building is a physical structure being molded with steel beams and concrete floors. The new roughly 31,000 square foot building is about half way through construction and should be finished by early 2019 with a grand opening celebration scheduled for summer 2019.

From Sixth Street, the new center could look much like any new construction site in town. It isn’t until you find yourself standing in the space looking up that you truly understand this massive undertaking. The beamed ceilings that can house aerial dances, decks that will host sculpture gardens, galleries to showcase artists from near and far, dance studios with state of the art sound equipment and spring floors, and a world class 380 seat professional theatre are more than impressive.

Jenny Birnie, executive director of the Center for the Arts, starts the tour standing on a concrete slab between the old center and the new one. Massive beams shoot up at an angle and meet the roof, which will one day have light fixtures and aerial dancers dangling over awe inspired patrons. This lobby space connects the old and the new and will be enclosed in glass in order to invoke one of the themes of the building, transparency. This word pops up over and over throughout the tour.

Birnie will be the first to admit that our community outgrew the needs of the original Center for the Arts. One of her biggest points is the versatility of the new space.

“Every single room in this building can be used in so many different ways,” says Birnie. “The gallery could be used to host classes or meetings or community gatherings. The theatre can be used for shows, plays, dance, events, and galas. There is so much versatility in every corner of this building.”

Every single room in the new center is available to be rented by the hour for classes, events, meetings, conferences, galas, and community uses. As we walk and talk, sliding through the wooden planks that will one day be hidden behind drywall, Birnie points out the many uses for every single space. The word versatility pops up time and time again and like transparency, it is another major theme of the building.

“That was a key component to the success of this project. We did not want to have a dedicated space that was only for one purpose,” Birnie states.

As we move room by room discussing each area’s individual features and the way that it can be used in a variety of different ways, Birnie along with general contractor Crockett Farnell of Black Dragon Development points out the intricate details designed to create a truly professional artistic space.

“The goal is to not be able to hear a pin drop in this space. Literally,” says Farnell. “That will be one of the tests during the commissioning process. To drop a pin at one end of the theatre and see if it can be heard at the other end.”

After climbing to the third floor on construction ladders, Farnell points us into a utility room and eludes to the fact that the bones of the building, like the air ducts, provoke a certain sense a joy in him.

“Every single thing in this building was thought out to ensure that there is no noise transferring room to room. See this?” Farnell points to an air intake machine that simply looks like a large grey metal box to the untrained eye. “We put this machine, as big as it is, onto isolators so that it will not vibrate the structure.”  Farnell puts his boot on the foot of the machine and gently moves it. The spring does, in fact, absorb all of the movement. “It is that sensitive where it will absorb the tiniest movements.”

This building has been designed with sound and quiet as the most important physical aspect, from the way the air moves through the building to the use of an acoustician to make sure everything is silent.

Climbing down from the third floor we find ourselves looking at the theatre from the mezzanine level. It is here that you realize there is no way to compare the theatre we are used to in the old county shop building to the high-end design of the new space. Farnell describes that the space can fit, at it’s full capacity, a total of 380 patrons. The seats on the ground floor level are not permanent and can be configured in a number of ways in order to fit any type of performance. There is an orchestra pit that can also be a dance pit but can also be covered so that the 6,350 square foot theatre has a completely flat floor. Versatility. From the floor of the theatre, you look north to a view of the Paradise Divide and Gothic Mountain through what will one day be a nearly floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Transparency.

Farnell describes that the building should be close to completion by the end of the year and then the equipment will be installed. “The building will be sitting here looking finished for a bit while we make sure everything is running to specification. The commissioning process will be lengthy.”

Final dates have yet to be released, but Birnie states that the building will be finished by March and will not be available for use until May due to the commissioning process, during which all the elements of the theater will be tested. Birnie describes that the building will be sitting here looking finished, but there will be a lot going on to make sure everything is working the way it needs to be.

“The first show will hopefully take place in May,” says Birnie. “A month long grand opening celebration will take place in July of 2019. We want to showcase the versatility of each room and have visitors see the spaces in their many uses.”

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