Camden adds concert hall and music school to town’s cultural repertoire – Knox County VillageSoup


CAMDEN — A more than $5 million renovation at Camden’s High Mountain Hall is transforming the tired old historic structure into a first-class, first-class home for Midcoast music stalwart, Bay Chamber Concerts.

Bay Chamber Concerts & Music School Executive Director Monia Kelly, holding a red jacket, with Rockport officials and contractors during a visit to the Mountain Street site of BCC’s new home. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Founded in 1961 as a modest series of chamber music concerts, the organization has always rented concert halls and teaching spaces to pursue its mission of concerts, education and community involvement – until now.

“It’s so exciting. It’s more than twice the size of where we are now,” executive director Monica Kelly said, noting that they will grow from 3,900 square feet to around 8,500 and include a hall 100-seat concert hall.

The move from the Shepherd Block Building at 18 Central St. in Rockport Village to 5 Mountain St. in Camden was prompted by the continued growth of the organization. The search for new neighborhoods began in earnest earlier this year – but buying and renovating was not on anyone’s mind – let alone spending more than $6.3 million on the project.

“We started looking for opportunities to move into a bigger space, and at the time we thought we would still be renting out,” Kelly said. “But we learned that this building was on the market.”

What they found was exactly what they needed and more, although some were unexpected. First they found a place they could afford. And second, they found a place where all the mobile and musical parts of the association could fit comfortably under one roof. This had never happened before.

Buying the old church building, and more recently a dance studio and event venue – for the price of $1.3 million would mean that for the first time in 62 years of history, Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School would have its own home. And the most exciting thing for Kelly and her staff was realizing that, also for the first time, they could have offices, music classrooms and a concert hall in the same building, and very close to downtown. bustling Camden.

BCC Executive Director Monica Kelly talks during a site visit October 12 with Rockport Planning and Development Manager Jeremy Martin (r) and EM Builders Construction Manager, Andrew Marchetti. Photo by Jack M. Foley

“It’s kind of a miracle,” Kelly, 65, said. An accomplished artist, she began her journey with BCC as a board member. That was in 1996. She has been general manager for 12 years.

The purchase of the Camden Hall did not come without some costly surprises, however.

“Once we bought it, we realized there were underlying foundation and drainage issues,” she explained. “It forced us to take on a much bigger project, but in the end, we’re really excited about it.”

A post-purchase discovery was that the building, constructed in the mid-1800s and featuring a long-removed tall steeple, was built on a ledge or shallow bedrock and had only a shallow crawl space. deep under his floor. And under this flooring, mostly rotten wooden supports were discovered that would not support the intended use of the two-story structure.

Thus, all of the old support structure was ripped out and the space filled with gravel topped with a vapor barrier in preparation for a new wooden first floor. And to give the second floor the necessary stability, massive steel I-beams anchored to concrete piers were installed wall-to-wall for support.

The failing rear part of High Mountain Hall on Mountain Street in Camden has been razed. After the renovation, the structure will provide approximately 8,500 square feet of offices, classrooms and a 100-seat concert hall. It is expected to open in September 2024. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Finally, the failing part of the building was razed. A new modern version will be built in its place, on almost the same footprint. But initially, the contractors poured numerous perimeter foundations and concrete slabs, all of steel-reinforced concrete, to firmly anchor the new construction. New electrical and plumbing, including a two-way drainage system, will also be installed in accordance with city building codes, as will pleasing landscaping. A large cedar hedge overlooking Mountain Street and several specimen trees will be removed, officials said.

In total, the building will end up with about 8,500 square feet of space — a gain of 1,400 — over two floors and at least 36 parking spaces, according to Kelly. Construction is expected to wrap in August 2024 with a grand opening scheduled for September, according to Kelly.

City officials met with Kelly and the design, construction and landscaping teams at the site Oct. 12 for an update on the progress of the project.

Among them were planning board members Patt (cq) Chen, Ethan Shaw and Christopher Rheault and planning and development director Jeremy Martin. Also in attendance were Michael Sabatini of Landmark Corporation Surveyors and Engineers of Rockport, and Andrew Marchetti of EM Builders, construction managers.

The floor supports under the High Mountain Hall floor were so rotten that they had to be removed and replaced with gravel and new supports. Massive steel I-beams were put in place to support the second floor. A new wooden ground floor will be installed in what will be a 100-seat concert hall. Photo by Jack M. Foley

As for funding the project out of an annual organizational budget of between $900,000 and $1 million, Kelly said he hopes a fundraising and endowment campaign will be very successful. It is now in its initial “silent phase”, she said, with contacts established with companies, foundations and individuals.

“It works really well,” Kelly said. “We hope to raise enough money to cover renovations and endowment to cover expenses.” She added: “We would be looking for community support further down the road.”

Community support has been a big part of what Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School is; indeed, its mission statement speaks specifically of “community involvement”.

Founded in 1961 as a small chamber music concert series, the organization has just completed its 62nd summer concert series. It had expanded to year-round concerts by 1973. In 1990, a summer music education program called Next Generation debuted. That was the inspiration for the current music school, which officially started in 2011 and has been growing ever since because the demand is there, according to Kelly.

“We’ve seen so much growth in the concert series and the school,” she said.

Precisely, the school has 170 students and BCC hosts 40 concerts during the year.

And while it has always featured classical music and chamber music in particular, BCC has expanded into other genres in recent years and will continue to “offer a wider range” of music, Kelly said. .

For example, the organization has presented jazz concerts and vocal performances and, this Christmas, will present a gospel choir from Harlem to New York, according to Kelly.

Still, “we try to stay committed to chamber music, it’s the core of our offerings,” she said.

And what about larger performances that cannot be accommodated in the new 100-seat concert hall? Well, those will continue to be staged at the historic Rockport Opera House, Kelly said.

Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School are available online at

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