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I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA: New Performing Arts Center Benefits Entire Community

Wenger l JR Clancy • Current IssueRenovations & InstallationsSeptember 2020 • September 9, 2020

Before becoming the renowned performing arts and STEM school that it is today, I.M. Terrell High School was a secondary school located in Fort Worth, Texas. The school opened in 1882 as the city’s first public school for black students, during the era of formal segregation in the United States. The school was renamed I.M. Terrell High School in 1921, in honor of the former principal. Under the legacy of G. A. Baxter, the music program in the mid-20th century produced many of the prominent jazz and rhythm and blues musicians of that era.

Since then, the school has been through extensive remodeling and expansions and is now the home of the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and Visual and Performing Arts). 

The campus combines the original historic school building with a new 65,000-square-foot performing arts center (PAC), connected by a unifying courtyard. It sits atop a hill with beautiful downtown views and is a beacon for the district and the community.

The PAC, featuring a 900-seat theatre, was a focal point, built to serve the many students focused on theatre, music and other fine arts within the school, but to also serve the surrounding community.

The PAC expansion team included the school’s administration, Corgan Architects, WJHW Theatre Consultants, Batts Audio, Video and Lighting, Turner Construction and Wenger Corporation.

A New PAC

It was important to preserve the historical nature of the century-old school everywhere except the new performing arts center. The new center would house the latest technology and top-notch equipment to best serve the needs of the variety of performances held there. 

“We have other performance venues in Fort Worth, but this would be the perfect size not only for the school but for the district and the community. We have various arts organizations that are always looking for affordable space,” said Christina Walk, Head of Visual and Performing Arts at I.M. Terrell.  “We worked with community partners who all agreed that the acoustics were important to make every type of performance sound great.” 

“We met with all of the different groups who would be using the space,” explained Jason Mellard, architect with Corgan. “We talked with every teacher, fine arts directors, music directors and anyone to make sure we met their needs.” 

WJHW recommended installing a Wenger Diva Acoustical Shell with a maple veneer finish. The shell has ten towers and three rows of ceilings.

“We coordinated and communicated frequently with the theatre consultants and structural and mechanical engineers,” Mellard said. “We needed to make sure we supported the weight properly, provided power where it needed to be, and coordinated with the contractor to ensure conditions were correct before installing the shell. There’s always that nitty gritty detail of the specific dimensions to ensure everything lines up perfectly.”

“The shell can be set up in any configuration very quickly and very safely,” said Glenn Bennett, Director of Dance and Theatre with the Fort Worth Independent School District. He loves having a new space with the latest technology to use at the school and share with the community. “To be able to tuck those large units up into the fly loft when not in use is pretty amazing.” 

As the shell was being designed, Mark Batts, CEO of Batts Audio, Video and Lighting (AVL) suggested the move away from incandescent lighting. He recommended multi-colored lighting in and around the stage area. “Being able to bring them multi-colored LEDs made an impact,” Batts said. “One of the first performances they hosted in that space was the United States Air Force Band. The combination of the color and some moving heads that we installed provided an extra bit of flare.”

Batts says they also installed accent strips that provide another unique element. “I love having the opportunity to bring those fun things into spaces,” he said. “You want your client to say, ‘Wow, I’ve only seen this on Broadway.’ That’s your highest compliment.” 

Batts also managed the theatre’s rigging, choosing J.R. Clancy products across the board. They installed three Titan Hoists, 28 PowerLift Hoists, a fire curtain line shaft hoist and a SceneControl 15 with a remote operating pendant. 

“We really appreciated that Wenger was very deliberate in making sure we knew how things worked,” said Tim Brendler, Head of the Visual and Performing Arts Department. “Our entire team appreciated that they walked us through every element and possible configuration. The flexibility that it affords us is wonderful.”

The stage includes a custom-designed STRATA Orchestra Pit Filler, which can be quickly installed with only a small crew. It provides strong support above and open space below with an innovative column-beam design. The acoustically dampened decks fit snugly against the stage to create an extremely quiet, integrated surface. 

Black Box Theatre

A black box theatre provides a separate, smaller performance space where Wenger’s StageTek Seated Risers and Staging equipment can be configured in a variety of ways. There is also a portable sound system with different places to plug in the speakers and LED lighting with a dimmer rack to set the mood for any given performance.

“We can host a larger audience by placing seated risers around the entire room and then performing in the round,” Brendler said. They have hosted robotics competitions and small theatre productions, too. Similar to the shell in the theatre, he says the flexibility of the risers is key. “It’s great to have so many different levels,” he said. “When hosting show choir competitions, it is great to be able to quickly and easily manipulate the configuration.” 

Rooms to Make Music

The new wing also included band, orchestra and choral rooms. The band room houses Wenger Nota chairs and Roughneck music stands, AcoustiCabinets that line the walls for instrument storage, and four Soundlok Sound Isolation Rooms with VAE® technology for individuals and small groups to practice. 

The rooms are 25 percent quieter than others and have the correct amount of absorption and diffusion so the musician can clearly hear the best possible sound. Virtual acoustics allow 

students to hear themselves play in different performance spaces and get immediate feedback with record/playback during the practice session. 

“When the students are in school, those rooms are used all day every day,” explained Brendler. “They give the students a safe space where they can practice in private. The record, playback and other capabilities are fun and give them extra incentive to get their practice time in.” There are already plans to add instrument repair and piano tuning classes which could be held in the ensemble rooms. 

The nearby choral room includes a white board for teacher notes, Nota chairs, StageTek risers, Rack ‘N Roll® Garment Racks, four more Soundlok Sound Isolation Rooms and eight music library units. 

Sound and video systems in the choral and band rooms have integrated processors connecting them with each other as well as the auditorium. If they host a large program or competition, the performers waiting in the band room can hear and see what’s happening in the auditorium to gage when it’s their turn to perform. “Everyone loves these rooms dedicated to the band, orchestra and choir,” said Walk. “They were well designed, and the windows offer spectacular views of downtown Fort Worth.” 

Rave Reviews

The new PAC is stunning and impressive by all accounts. Wide hallways lead to generous specialty classrooms with all of the latest technology and useful equipment. Everything about it is impressive. “The community loves it. The symphony plays there, the opera plays there and the Texas Ballet Theater plans to return with their annual Nutcracker performance. When it opened, it was always packed and has made a tremendous difference for the district and the community,” said Mellard. “The Diva shell and the variety of spaces enable us to do what we love: collaborate to a higher degree at a professional level,” said Brendler. 

And the extra effort to get the sound right was well worth it. “Everyone loves this space,” said Walk. “If it didn’t have excellent acoustics, it wouldn’t have been worth building. In this hall, everything sounds great.”

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