The Harford County Center for the Arts has big plans for the 41-acre Emily Bayless Graham estate land parcel. Using a combination of donations, county and state funds, the group plans to build a center for visual and performing arts. The facility will act as a regional gathering place for music, dance, theater, visual and literary arts disciplines.
As stated in the Graham will, work on the arts center must begin by late 2018 or the property will return to the Graham estate. A clause states that the estate trustee has the power to grant a three-year extension of the established agreement if the project is underway, but not yet completed within that original seven-year time period.
The parcel is bounded by Route 24, Wheel and Tollgate Roads. The other 69 acres of the estate, laying between Routes 24, 924 and Wheel Road, is designated for “passive recreation.” This section will be used for a natural park that is not permitted to have sports fields. There is currently a house in the wooded area that will remain. The estimated market value of the more than 100 acres combined is upwards of $17 million.
The Harford County Cultural Arts Board and the Center for Arts contracted for a feasibility study to determine the demand, sustainability and parameters of an arts center. Area individuals, businesses and non-profit agencies were surveyed, and a business plan evaluating the economic impact upon the county was also completed.
Arts centers in other areas of the country have brought educational, social and economic benefits to their communities. Harford County’s center will operate as a regional cultural hub for all ages and levels of abilities. Classes, performances and exhibits will draw local and national talent. Due to its planned proximity to the I-95 corridor, the new facility is anticipated to attract shows and exhibits traveling nationally.
The Center for the Arts is working with New York City architect Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, a group specializing in the design of cultural facilities. Hardy presented a preliminary building plan fitting the property’s size and triangular shape that incorporates three theaters of 100, 400 and 1,200 seats each. The plan also includes two rehearsal spaces, two exhibit galleries, a caterer-friendly kitchen, and classrooms, possibly housed in a three story section of the building. The facility may also include a climate-controlled display area of local historical artifacts.
With an eye toward the future, Hardy’s plan includes a green roof, LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction and eventually, an elevated green walkway connecting the arts center property with the park area across Route 24. A drainage area will be outfitted with a fountain and a walking path will lead to a sculpture garden.
The next step in making these plans reality focuses on mobilizing community interest, energy and commitment from the residents of Harford County. Funding sources must be identified and the money needed must be raised through the private sector, county and state. A conceptual design and cost estimate of the project is expected by April. This information will identify the amount of funding needed before the project is put up for a construction bid.
The Center for the Arts general information, upcoming events and the membership application is available at http://www.centerfortheartsharford.com