Waterville board approves $80 million Colby performing arts center plans


The Waterville Planning Board on Monday reviewed plans for Colby College’s Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts on the Mayflower Hill campus. Rendering by architects William Rawn Associates

WATERVILLE — The Planning Board on Monday voted 6-0 to approve plans for an estimated $80 million performing arts center on Colby College’s Mayflower Hill campus in Waterville that will house a performance hall, studios for music, theater and dance, cinema studies space, and faculty offices.

The three-level, 74,000-square-foot Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, will be built where the Mary Low parking lot is now, and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023, according to Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning.

Clark and Kemp Anderson, senior project manager in Colby’s facilities services department, and Mina Amundsen, Colby’s assistant vice president for facilities and campus planning, attended Monday’s meeting. The board had few questions about the project.

“It looks like a great location,” board member Bruce White said. “It should fit well on campus.”

White made a motion to approve the project, with conditions. Samantha Burdick seconded his motion. White said the plans looked good and he was excited to see them.

“You always do top-notch projects,” he told Colby officials.

Conditions of the project include that the Office of State Fire Marshal review and approve all building plans to ensure state fire code compliance, and that Waterville Fire Department do a general life safety review. Also, fire alarm and sprinkler system plans must be submitted to the fire department. Emergency power generators must be installed in the center, which must have adequate ambulance access to the main entrance.

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Infrastructure for the project is expected to be laid in the ground this fall. Fundraising for the project continues. Clark said last week that officials hope to break ground on the actual building sometime in the middle of next year, depending on fundraising progress.

Colby has performing arts venues on campus that include Strider Theater, Lorimer Chapel, Bixler Auditorium and Given Auditorium, which are interspersed throughout campus. The idea of building a new performing arts center is to put all venues in one location th at is convenient and accessible, according to Colby officials.

The interdisciplinary and collaborative space will include a large performing hall that seats about 300. But with flexible size of staging, it will be able to accommodate larger audiences. Performance studios, each slightly different, will include a room that is acoustically well-tuned and has lots of glass and a view; a so-called “dark” studio to include full lighting control and lighting rigging; and a dance space. The spaces will be interchangeable and flexible. The performance hall, for instance, could be used for a large music event such as a symphony orchestra, or a smaller, chamber music performance.

The performing arts center is named for Colby trustee and alumni Michael Gordon, who donated to the center.

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The performance hall will not have a full proscenium, or arch, that separates the stage from the auditorium, but it will have wings , according to Clark. He said the performance hall was planned for an audience of around 300 because Colby can use the Opera House if more seating is needed.

Faculty from the music, theater and dance departments will be intermixed in office suites to promote cooperation.

The garden, or lower level of the building, will include the primary access for parking to the rear of the center, the main level will include most of the performing venues and studios, and the upper level will include some office suites, one performance venue and technical spaces.

Besides the future performing arts center, Colby is now constructing a $6.5 million arts collaborative across Main Street downtown from the college’s $26 million Lockwood Hotel, which this year is housing about 100 students during the coronavirus pandemic. Colby also is in the final stages of designing the $18-20 million Paul J. Schupf Art Center at 93 Main St. downtown, bringing the total investment in the arts over the next couple of years to more than $100 million between the college’s campus and downtown locations.

The arts collaborative on Main Street is expected to be completed and ready for use by March or April next year. Also in the spring of 2021, Colby officials anticipate breaking ground on the Schupf Center, in which environmental remediation work is currently being done, with an opening in 2022.

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Colby recently completed a $200 million, 350,000-square-foot Harold Alfond Athletic Center on Campus Drive and received a certificate of occupancy in July.

In other matters at Monday’s meeting, the board considered an informal pre-application review for a request by HEP Energy USA LLC for a 4.9-megawatt solar farm to be constructed at 41 Webb Road. Planners also discussed possible revisions to the zoning ordinance regulating short term rentals.

Board member Cathy Weeks was absent from the meeting.


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