The College of Charleston is set to begin a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Albert Simons Center for the Arts.
It realizes a plan that was set in motion by the college years ago.
“This has been a long time coming and we’re delighted,” School of the Arts Dean Edward Hart said in a statement.
From the project’s onset, the college estimated its cost at $50 million. The arts center, which is on St. Philip Street on the college campus, will be closed for the next two years while the 42-year-old building’s renovation is completed. The renovation will upgrade classrooms and performance spaces as well as the building’s technology and infrastructure. Construction is slated to begin in late September.
Designed by Liollio Architecture and HGA Design Firm, the reimagined Simons Center is conceived to be inviting to students, featuring colors inspired by iconic architectural features found on campus, such as the blue-green door of Towell Library and the coral color of Randolph Hall.
“It will look brighter and I think it will be more noticeable from the street,” he said.
The work will involve 87,365 square feet, according to Brad Weiland, senior project manager for the College of Charleston’s facilities management, with the renovated Simons Center encompassing more than 99,000 square feet.
Hart points out that while the Simons Center has served the department well since opening in 1979, it was in need of an upgrade after more than 40 years. It opened with the aim of serving up to 800 students.
Today, the College of Charleston said the building, which is the main hub of the School of the Arts, accommodates five times that number.
Among the key improvements will be new seminar classrooms, updated and enlarged classroom spaces and a new two-story black box theater. The School of the Arts will also benefit from a state-of-the-art costume shop, scene shop and theater design studio; new sculpture, printmaking and drawing studios; a digital lab and gallery/multipurpose room; new music practice rooms and revamped dressing room spaces.
The renovation also includes mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and updated technological systems.
Five locations around campus will house School of the Arts programs and departments during the renovation. These include Harbor Walk West, 136 St. Philip St. (the former site of Redux Contemporary Art Studio); the Lightsey Center, Calhoun Annex (172 Calhoun St./Chapel Theatre); and 329 King St. (corner of King and George streets).
With the Recital Hall and the Emmett Robinson Theatre, located within the Simons Center, closed for the duration of the renovation, many School of the Arts performances will be held in the college’s Sottile Theatre as well as the Chapel Theatre.
Construction will run through 2022, and major completion of the building will take place in the spring of 2023, with an estimated opening for the fall 2023 semester, Weiland said.
With large windows, a modern façade and carefully chosen brick, Hart said the entrance is meant to subtly grab visitors’ attention as they make their way from the rear of Randolph Hall to St. Philip Street.
The building will also give added visual prominence to School of the Arts, and its role in the city of Charleston’s arts scene. It dovetails with new branding, centered on the tagline “The Artistic Heartbeat of Charleston.”
“There really isn’t an artistic institution in this town that we aren’t somehow involved with, whether it’s a direct relationship or partnership or whether it’s our graduates that are over there or our faculty members,” Hart said.
The College of Charleston has deep connections with Spoleto Festival USA, Piccolo Spoleto, the Charleston Symphony, the Charleston Gaillard Center, the Preservation Society of Charleston, as well as many area theater and dance companies and art galleries.
“We can just go on and on, and I think it’s time for us to claim that. Charleston is an arts city and we’re at the heart of it,” Hart said.
With such an integral role in Charleston’s arts scene, the significant investment also bodes well for continued arts vitality in the years ahead.
“When times are tough, very often the arts take it on the chin. And our administration has shown the foresight to really stand by us with this project, which indicates that the arts really are a priority for the College,” Hart said.
Follow Maura Hogan on Twitter at @msmaurahogan.