YSU collaboration yields new project



The round recital hall gives the new theater its own identity, the architect said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A state office built next door several years ago short-circuited a long-contemplated expansion of Edward W. Powers Auditorium.
But that government building opened new possibilities that are emerging today.
An estimated $4.2 million theater project is expected to start this fall next to Powers on Chestnut Street, between West Federal and Commerce streets. Construction should take about 15 months.
The Youngstown Symphony Society had considered an addition to Powers since the 1960s, said Patricia Syak, executive director.
Plans for adding a second stage nearly were ready when the George V. Voinovich Government Center project emerged to the east of Powers in 1998, Syak said. The new state building left no room for a new stage on that spot.
"That changed the whole complexion of what we could do," she said.
The symphony society then refocused on possibilities for the Chestnut street side of Powers when Youngstown State University expressed the need for a recital hall for the Dana School of Music.
The society needed a performance space that fit between Powers' 2,300 seats and other spaces in town that can seat 200 or 300. YSU needed a recital hall equal in quality to its well-regarded music program.
A collaboration was born.
Impressive capabilities
The result is a theater that will contain a stage the same size as Powers, 600 seats and acoustics that will maximize the quality of performances, from soloists to a chamber orchestra.
The addition also helps modernize Powers.
A loading area along Commerce Street will serve both stages. The addition will connect to Powers, which will have its openings enlarged to accommodate larger sets that won't fit inside today.
Dressing rooms built for the new theater also will be available for Powers productions.
Designing the recital hall for exacting acoustics took a lot of time, which is why the project has taken six years, Syak said. For example, the heating and cooling systems can't interfere with the sound during a performance.
"We weren't idle in the process. We spent an enormous amount of time in the design period," Syak said. "Hopefully, that's going to bear fruit. The last thing you want to do is build a concert hall known for bad sound."
International experts on acoustics were used to perfect the recital hall, said the architect, Gary Balog, of Ricciuti Balog and Partners in Youngstown. Adjustable sound reflectors will be built-in to "tune" the building to different performers, he said.
The design
Designing the theater also was a challenge, Balog said.
The site is narrow, deep and on a corner in a downtown. The architecture needed to be functional yet unique and still fitting into downtown, he said.
What he came up with has several distinct features:
UThe recital hall will be square for acoustic reasons, but it will be inside a round building covered with zinc shingles.
UThe lobby mostly will be glass and steel, with movable walls inside to section off portions for special events. The lobby, oriented to Chestnut Street, tapers as it moves from the hall alongside Powers toward West Federal Street.
UA garden will sit on West Federal instead of bringing the theater right to the sidewalk.
UThe loading area along Commerce Street will be about the same height as the Powers backstage area.
On a note
The theater needed its own identity and an iconic symbol, Balog said, and the round recital hall portion does that. From above, the round hall and angled lobby almost look like a musical note.
"It all derived from a playful kind of thought," Balog said.
The theater will be named the Eleanor Beecher Flad Pavilion, and the concert hall inside will be named the Ford Family Recital Hall.
Donations from individuals, corporations and foundations so far make up all the funding. The symphony society still needs to raise about $1 million more for the project, Syak said.
The tie-in with YSU is a key part of the project, said Jason Whitehead, executive director of downtown's redevelopment agency, the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.
The hope is that activity from YSU-related events at the theater will boost business at downtown eateries and maybe create the need for new ones, he said.
"It's going to bring YSU students and families of YSU students downtown," he said. "I think this is the first of many steps to bring YSU downtown."
rgsmith@vindy.com

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