Theatre design begins at a former church

Local News
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Architects and design-specialist came from Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, and Somerset Wednesday to start the intitial design work for a $2.3 million project. This project will turn a historical church building into a theatre of dramatic arts, that will be a new tourism assest for Johnstown.

The former St. Columba Church is the focus of their attention. This church served the English-speaking Roman Catholics of Cambria County for 94 years before being closed in 2009 due to parish consolidation. The current owner, the nonprofit 1901 Church, Inc, has been laying the groundwork for the church’s new life as a theatre.

“We’re excited to see the design professionals come in,” said Teresa Stoughton Marafino, Board Chair of 1901 Church. “This begins our development of a venue for live theatre.”

“We want to develop a professional-quality theatre,” explained Dave Hurst, Project Manager for The Steeples Project, which is developing the theatre for 1901 Church. “Our goal is to save this beautiful building by putting it to use as a dynamic and effective place for dramatic arts.”

Schematic design and initial design-development are being funded through a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a $25,000 Keystone Historic Preservation Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and $15,000 in matching funds from the Cambria City Cultural Partnership and the 1889 Foundation. 

The vision for the use of this theatre is a venue for productions and plays that explore the Allegheny Region’s heritage. These will also complement other heritage attractions from Johnstown.

The lead architect for the project is Michael Friedhofer of Landmarks SGA, LLC of Somerset. He brought two engineers along to determine how to strengthen both the floor and the ceiling of the building. The ceiling has to support the rigging needed for modern stage lighting, sound equipment, curtains, screens, and related motors. The floor will be required to support a raked bank of about 300 seats for patrons. 
 
Architect Kurt Wehmann from Hudson, NY, and systems/design specialist Paul Sanow of Fort Thomas, KY, both are theatre-design specialists with Theatre Consultants Collaborative of Chapel Hill, NC, a firm that has developed hundreds of theatre spaces across the country. Wehmann and Sanow will be concentrating on the infrastructure, fixtures and equipment specifically relating to the performing and back-stage spaces. The acoustical consultant, David Greenberg of Creative Acoustics, is from Westport, CT. His task is to make the room as sound-effective as possible and, just as importantly, to see that unwanted sounds from both inside and outside the building don’t intrude on performances. The lead architect will coordinate all of the design work and assemble it into a master plan for construction. 

The total Columba theatre-reuse project is estimated to cost $2.3 million and will require 4-6 years to develop. With the beginning of design work, though, it now is a project that is underway

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