Saint James School is proud to debut the Pohanka Fine Arts Center, the magnificent new home for our music and visual arts programs. We are excited for the day we can show you this $8 million, three-story, 22,000-square foot building in person, but for now, our students are already taking advantage of making music and creating art in this beautiful new space.
The Pohanka Fine Arts Center includes a recital hall, two artist studios, a ceramics/3D art studio, an art gallery, a digital media lab, three practice rooms, and seven teacher studios, where private music instructors will teach students. It also has a classroom, an ensemble rehearsal room, and a choir rehearsal room. This building is the first capital project to be completed as part of the $35 million Make A Difference Campaign.
The building itself is a work of art, designed by MSB Architects of Hagerstown. Different style elements are used—stone, brick, wood, steel, and glass—with whimsical touches within the building that really speak to the arts.
“The philosophy of the building was marrying classical architecture with modern,” said lead architect Scott Bowen at a recent virtual donor appreciation event. “We have the front of the building that has the look of the campus because we wanted to honor the tradition of the campus. The recital hall has the old stone building look. Then we wanted to show the balance of modern against classical and how there's a tension there, and we created that with the slanted roof, tipping it to an angle and curving it and suggesting that they’re all pulling to each other.”
Linda Stowe, Director of Fine Arts, said the planning process for the building started seven years ago when she was interviewing to come to Saint James.
“Over the next two years we started having conversations about what was needed in the building programmatically, and the design began to take shape,” she said.
When Saint James Headmaster Father Dunnan reflects on the various stages of the building process, he said it was an obvious project to undertake to fill our needs, but was such a new endeavor for the school to build a building of this quality and on this scale. Father Dunnan’s first project as headmaster was to turn the old Cotton gymnasium into an arts center.
“That was taking advantage of an existing space. We’ve always fit the arts into things, but to actually build a building purposely for the arts was an exciting new opportunity for us,” he said. “I was really impressed that the Board and our donors saw the need right away and understood that we had outgrown our existing spaces and really needed to make this statement.”
The Pohanka Fine Arts Center is located behind Claggett Hall, overlooking the Bai Yuka. If you drive around the Senior Circle, you will see the Georgian brick front rising up from between Claggett and the Schurz Terrace. The central location was purposely selected to embed the arts into the heart of campus and make it part of the academic day.
“The opportunity to place it right in the middle of our school, right in our spiritual core by the Bai Yuka, the spring of living water, which is such a scriptural verse, the arts being that spring of living water academically, and to put it on the same axis with the academic buildings and the student center so they are all part of the academic day; it all just fell into place. And it is everything we had hoped for,” said Father Dunnan.
At the virtual event, lead donors Geoffrey Pohanka ’76 and his wife Anne Kline Pohanka spoke about their excitement for the new building. Geoff recalled looking out his third form dorm window in Claggett and seeing Father Owens emerge from Rich Cottage, which used to sit where the fine arts center is now located.
“The Bai Yuka is a special place, and not just any building could be built there. The Pohanka Fine Arts Center fits right in with its Georgian architecture, a connection with the past, its stone facade, the recital hall, and a look toward the future with its large glass mezzanine,” he said. “I'm very excited to see the building in use and the contribution it will make to enrich the lives of our students.”
The need for a new arts center is a testament to the thriving Saint James arts programs. More students than ever before are taking offerings in studio art and music, and the Cotton Building simply could not accommodate this positive growth.
“This building is a statement for the arts, which we needed,” said Father Dunnan. “We have developed a very strong arts program at Saint James, and visiting the campus you wouldn’t see that unless you made the mistake of going into the Cotton Building and seeing everyone crammed into every nook and cranny. This is just a beautiful building, a center for the arts, that makes very clear that Saint James cares about the arts, is good at the arts, and offers that opportunity for all of our students.”
Jeremy McDonald, art teacher at Saint James for the past 12 years, is excited for the dedicated art spaces, which include the main art studio, advanced art studio, and digital media lab on the third floor, and a ceramics/3D art studio and an art gallery on the bottom level.
“Just the increase in storage and space has made it so much more flexible than the prior art room,” he said. “We’re able to do a lot more in-depth projects, like oil painting or printmaking, that we weren’t quite able to do in the old space because there was nowhere to put projects in between classes. Now we have adequate space for that and adequate space for all of the materials you would need to do those projects.”
In the advanced art studio, each student has an individual work station with a drafting table and storage area for their materials.
“If they’re working on something, they can just leave it out to dry overnight, and it’s not like they have to clean it up for the next group to come in; it’s their own personal space,” said Mr. McDonald. “They really like that and are excited about having their own space to work.”
Saint James is now also able to offer a ceramics/3D art class, which in the past has always been a part of Art I, where students would spend a few weeks of the semester on an introduction to ceramics.
“Now, I’m able to take the whole semester so students can really get into the medium,” Mr. McDonald said. “We can do all of the hand-building projects we’ve done previously and still have them do wheel throwing for a quarter of the year, and they can actually learn how to center clay and throw on the wheel.”
Mr. McDonald is excited about the potential to expand the visual arts curriculum, with the ability to have multiple classes happening at the same time or additional medium-specific courses that allow for more in-depth exploration of a subject.
The art gallery provides a formal space to display artwork, including senior showcases, alumni artists, or regional artists. Mr. McDonald pointed out that there are not many galleries of this quality in Washington County, and this could be an opportunity to bring in guest artists to show their work in our gallery and host workshops for our students.
In its applied music program, Saint James offers lessons in nine different disciplines with 12 adjunct faculty members. In the Cotton Building, music and theater had to share spaces, so the dedicated practice and teaching studios are a most welcome addition. The applied music faculty have also gained an office, giving them a space to eat, take a break, or get organized between lessons.
“The applied music program is only going to grow now that we have the Pohanka Fine Arts Center,” said Melanie Regan ’00, Associate Chair of Fine Arts. “We have so many spaces to teach in, to play in, to practice in. The kids are so excited to come over and practice now, and I think they feel inspired by the space.”
The lesson and practice rooms were acoustically engineered using a box-in-box construction. In each room, there are two layers of studs with air space in between. The outside wall goes all the way up to the ceiling, but the inner wall stops a bit lower and doesn’t touch anything else, which stops any vibrations from going from one space to the next.
“I think it's one of the greatest aspects of the project, but probably the least visible,” said Mrs. Stowe. “Certainly, for musicians it’s the most appreciated. You go into a room and you feel like it's your sanctuary when you go in to play or to sing.”
The chamber music room can accommodate the school’s ensembles—flute, guitar, string, wind, piano, and the a cappella groups. Those groups can also practice in the classroom or recital hall, allowing for ensemble rehearsals to happen simultaneously, something that couldn’t happen in the Cotton Building.
“Because we have spaces in this building that are dedicated for singers and for instrumentalists, it’s great for the students to know they can go to those spaces and play or sing whenever they want to without worrying if someone else is in that room,” said Mrs. Regan.
The Kay H. Teach Recital Hall, given by former parent and current trustee Stuart Teach in memory of his late wife, offers a stunning space for our student-musicians to perform. It’s an intimate space with a seating capacity of 80, a professional lighting system, and acoustics that perfectly disperse sound to all corners of the room. A fully-restored 1923 Steinway model B piano adorns the stage. The piano was given by former parent Wei Zhou and his daughter Kitty Zhou'20 in memory of her mother, Mrs. Hongwen Jiang.
“For me, the most impressive space is the Teach Recital Hall. It’s a quality for a space acoustically and visually that we’ve never had before,” said Father Dunnan. “I remember when the architects were first presenting the look of the different spaces in the building and they showed the design for the concert hall with the wood finish and the look of piano keys on the walls and the lighting in the clouds, and there was an audible ‘wow’ as that is particularly a stunning room.”
The Saint James Chapel Choir also gained a beautiful new rehearsal room, featuring wooden choir desks of a quality you might find at the National Cathedral and a music library shelving system with a roll-out design that both saves space and makes music easier to find. Mrs. Stowe said the professional look of the room gives the choristers assurance that they can sing to a high standard.
“It’s giving them a vision of, yes, we are a small school, but we’re a choir that can sing pretty much anywhere and represent the school very well, and I think it’s going to give them a great deal of confidence to know we’ve provided that for them here,” she said.
The common spaces in the building—the foyer, atrium, student commons, and terrace—are also magnificent. There is a sensational view when you pass through the foyer and enter the student commons, which overlooks the atrium and provides a stunning view of the terrace and the Bai Yuka through a wall of glass windows.
“We’ve already seen immediately kids hanging out in the commons area. They want to be in this building, the synergy that you have when you come into the building, and you have a sense that there is interesting, creative work going on, is part of the ethos of what we wanted to build,” said Mrs. Stowe. “So, if you’re in the commons area and vicariously hear someone practicing that’s a really great byproduct of the space being open to everybody.”
The Pohanka Fine Arts Center is a tremendously strong testament to our community as a school. That we could build a building like this on the strength of donations is remarkable.
“We’ve had a large company of generous donors who have given, all of them in addition to their regular giving to the school,” said Father Dunnan. “They’ve really given this gift to enhance what we do here as a school in the arts and allowed us to make this grand new statement in the center of our campus, by our spring of living water for our present and our future.”
Enjoy more photos on the pages that follow. Watch our preview video at: www.stjames.edu/Pohanka.