Construction Underway For Greensboro's Highland Center For The Arts

Jun 18, 2016

There’s a big construction project underway in the Northeast Kingdom town of Greensboro, at the corner of Hardwick Street and Center Road. The building is just taking shape, but it already seems somehow uniquely Greensboro. It’s a large barn-like structure, with what looks like an oversized drum sprouting out of the center.  

When its doors open next spring, that drum will be a 250-seat theater in the round. It’s the heart of the Highland Center for the Arts. And contract negotiations are underway to make it a permanent home for the Mirror Repertory Company.

Each summer, the Mirror Repertory Company brings world-class theater to a tent on the town hall green in Greensboro. But if all goes as planned, this will be the Mirror’s final season under the tent.

The new project’s being built by a not-for-profit corporation called the Highland Center for the Arts Trust. Greensboro resident MacNeil (that's his full name) is the trust’s representative on the construction site. He says the design gives a nod to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

“This sort of references The Globe, but it’s not an equivalent," he says. "The Globe Theatre in London is a much larger facility, it’s open to the air, only operates during the season – not the winter season. And this is a year-round facility.”

When the project first got underway it was referred to as the Mirror Theater. But MacNeil says the name has been changed to reflect the fact that the building will be a more well-rounded arts center.

Ted Donlon and Valdine Hall look at what will be the main gallery space once the center is complete.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

“This facility is now called Highland Center for the Arts," says MacNeil. "So it does not have 'theater' in the name anymore. Because part of that had to do with wanting to emphasize that it was ... more inclusive than just a theater.”

MacNeil says the total cost of the project has not yet been determined, but he says it will likely be "north of $10 million."

The center will house fine art gallery spaces, rehearsal rooms, offices and a full service 40-seat café.

Ted Donlon will serve as operations manager once the center opens. Walking around what will soon be the control room, he says they’re looking at state-of-the-art technical equipment to serve the main stage as well as rehearsal spaces.

“The theatrical lighting is almost all LED, which is kind of cool. It’s a lot more versatile, though. There’s still a place for the old traditional lights, so it’s actually a hybrid package," he says. "The audio system is kind of a hybrid as well. We’re in the process of adapting it now from strictly theatrical to, hopefully, host live music.”

However, Donlon says they’re holding off on making tech purchases for now. He explains, “We’ve been told not to buy it until a few months before our opening because the technology’s changing so quickly.”

Wells are being drilled under the parking area for the building's geothermal heating and cooling system.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

The center’s heating and cooling system is also state-of-the-art. Underneath what will be the parking lot, contractors are drilling hydrothermal wells. MacNeil says the system will act like a giant radiator to maintain a temperature of 50 degrees throughout the year.

Inside, the theater in the round rises up through the center of the space, with three levels of seating. Wrapping around the central theater are lobby spaces, and Donlon says the curved interior walls will serve as art galleries.

Two levels of balcony seating will overlook the reconfigurable stage area, which is covered in plastic here.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

“There’ll be gallery space through the main lobby on the first level," he says. "And then there’s two supplemental lobbies on the second and third levels for art. And we’re looking into having somebody curate those. So it would be not just local, but hopefully stuff from afar as well.”

Valdine Hall, who serves as the general manager, says the center hopes to work with various arts groups, from the Mirror Repertory Company to Circus Smirkus, which is also based in Greensboro. And she says they’ll be reaching out to local schools too.

“We do plan to offer an educational component and work with our area schools, just in terms of involving the kids in theater," she says. "So that part is actually going to be very exciting, to work on that and come up with some programming in conjunction with our schools."

Ted Donlon, left, MacNeil and Valdine Hall are working to get the Highland Center for the Arts up and running by early next spring.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

And Hall says they’d like to work with schools beyond Greensboro as well.

“We’re all very rural here," she says. "We still have lots of small schools. So it would be nice to be able to share this with all the area schools here.”

Hall, who also serves as Greensboro’s Town Clerk, says she believes the center will be a boon to the community.

“There’s a lot going on in Greensboro, there always has been," she says. "It’s always been a very popular area, a destination point. And hopefully this will just help to enrich.”

Exterior construction is scheduled to wrap up by late fall. Interior work will continue through the winter, and plans call for the Highland Center for the Arts to open its doors next spring.