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Education: New auditorium could make high school an arts magnet

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw High will gain a performing arts facility, but lose its distinctive glass atrium under a renovation plan scheduled to begin this summer.

The $5.5 million project will build a 600-seat auditorium on the north side of the school, move the media center to the existing 300-seat auditorium and turn the current media center into six classrooms. Another classroom will be renovated as a science lab.

The auditorium will allow the school to expand performing arts programs and develop vocational programs in theater production, said David Hammel, the Waccamaw High principal.

That could lead to the school becoming an arts magnet for the district, he said.

And, in another sense, a magnet for the arts.

“We see it as something the whole community can use,” Hammel said.

Scott Jacob, director of the Cultural Council of Georgetown County, said there are groups that could use the new facility now, such as the Long Bay Symphony and dance studios.

“We would be able to bring in some well-known performers, like they do in Myrtle Beach,” he said, referring to the facility at Myrtle Beach High School.

“At the core of this whole project is the assembly space,” said Steve Usry, a principal in UWPD Architecture, which designed the facility. “It gives us a true facility that is capable of having a high-quality production.”

The 2,000-square-foot stage will have space in the wings for sets, professional light, sound and video systems, and a “green room” for the talent. For the audience, it will offer quality acoustics, clear sight lines and a heating and cooling system that will be felt, but not heard.

“There’s not a bad seat in the house,” Usry said. “In all respects it will be a true performing arts facility.”

Its location will allow the auditorium to be used after hours or independently of school functions, he said.

Work on the auditorium will start this summer. When it’s finished, in nine months, work will begin to convert the old auditorium into a media center. That should take three months. The old media center will be turned into classrooms in time for school in 2012.

Usry’s plan calls for replacing the solid front wall of the current auditorium with a wall of windows. “We’re going to make it a more visible space and more comfortable space,” he said.

The front of the building will have a canopy and columns, elements that will be repeated at the outside entrance to the auditorium.

There’s a “lack of functional use of the lobby,” Usry said. The plan is to “make it a more controlled, better lighted space for people to stay in.”

While the atrium makes the school distinctive, the company that made the glass panels is out of business and the panels aren’t energy efficient, Hammel said. “Summer and winter, students don’t go up there much,” he said.

He believes the renovation will still leave the school with its own architectural character.

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