Posted in projects on April 1, 2016 9:06 am EDT

High Art: Messiah College’s Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts

A brain trust of architecture, AVL design, acoustics—and performance—merges at a Pennsylvania College concert and worship space

Exterior night shot. Image courtesy of High Construction Co. and Nathan Cox Photography  /  Launch gallery (in new window)











Sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter Designer Today to stay up to date with all we do at Designer and with what's going on in the field of house of worship architecture.


TAGS: avl equipment, new construction,


By Carolyn Heinze

Anything worth something requires hard work and perseverance, it’s said, and the people behind Messiah College’s new Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts in Grantham, Pa., wouldn’t argue. The facility celebrated its grand opening in the winter of 2013 after eight years of design and construction, the result of a vision that was conceptualized nearly 20 years ago.

Boasting 92,000 square feet of new construction, the High Center connects to Messiah’s existing fine arts center, which benefited from a number of renovations during the process. At the heart of the High Center is Parmer Hall, a 900-seat performing arts space that serves as the main auditorium. A 150-seat recital hall welcomes smaller performances, and a number of faculty spaces and practice rooms, each designed to accommodate different ensembles—instrumental, choral, or chamber music—are used for teaching and rehearsing. The remaining square footage is dedicated to classroom space, a keyboard lab, and storage.

Messiah’s former recital hall, located in the old arts center, was transformed into a black box theatre. “We feel like we really balanced our goals, which was to make sure we had a facility that was conducive to worship, which is an important part of who we are, as well as meet our need for academic space for students,” explains Kathie Shafer, vice president of operations at Messiah. The college’s leadership also wanted to build a performance space, “because increasing our outreach with our community was one of our goals.”

Juggling objectives

Shafer’s primary challenge was twofold: she was working within a fixed—and strict—budget, but she required the acoustics, in the main hall especially, to be world class. “We did not jeopardize acoustics,” she emphasizes. “I can buy more furniture later if I’m tight on my budget, but I can’t fix acoustics.” From the outset, this established a continual push-pull, give-and-take dynamic between Shafer and acoustician Christopher Brooks, senior consultant at Acoustic Dimensions, an acoustics and AV design firm headquartered in Addison, Texas, with offices across the United States as well as the U.K. (Brooks works for the firm’s New York office and is based in nearby Lancaster, Pa.), as well as the project leads at Greenfield Architects Ltd. and the firm’s sister operation, general contractor/construction manager High Construction Co., both based in Lancaster.

“Recital and performance spaces are critical acoustically, and early in the process there is a really rigorous effort between us and the acousticians,” says Frank Fox, principal at Greenfield. Especially, he notes, when it comes to shaping the space. “Ultimately, a lot of other things can’t happen until that form is somewhat set, and that takes into consideration everything from the volume of the space, the width, the height, the length, whether or not the floor is raked, how high the stage is, the overhangs on the balconies.” And this is before getting into the materials that will be applied, their surfaces, and their density.

But before the acousticians could worry about the building’s interior, they had to consider the High Center’s exterior elements—namely those over which they had no control, like the freight train that passes on a regular basis, just a few dozen feet from the facility. “You can literally throw a stone, without a lot of effort, from the hall to the train track,” Brooks jokes. “So it was very important that that train not be heard, particularly in the concert hall. We succeeded in that, but it made me nervous because we didn’t have an unlimited budget.”  continued >>

Click here to download a copy of "High Center Equipment List"





Click images to launch full-sized gallery (with captions) in a new window