I.M. Terrell High School: A Beacon for the District and the Community
I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth, Texas, has come a long way in the last hundred years.
When it first opened its doors in 1882, it was the city’s first public school for black students during the era of formal segregation in the United States. Since then, it has been renamed to honor its former principal, Isaiah Milligan Terrell, and, under the legacy of G. A. Baxter, produced many of the prominent jazz and rhythm and blues musicians of that era.
In more recent years, the school has gone through extensive remodeling and expansions. Now, it’s 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 performing arts center (PAC), connected by a unifying courtyard.
But creating this new PAC required comprehensive solutions.
The New PAC
The I.M. Terrell campus sits atop a hill with beautiful downtown views, making it a beacon for the District and community. As such, it was essential to preserve the historic nature of the century-old school everywhere except the new 65,000-square-foot performing arts center. The new PAC would house the latest technology and 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, Executive Director, Fort Worth Independent School District Visual and Performing Arts. “We worked with community partners who all agreed that the acoustics were important to make every type of performance sound great.”
The PAC expansion team knew they needed comprehensive solutions for their practice, rehearsal and performance spaces. To find the best solutions, the school’s administration partnered with Corgan Architects, WJHW Theatre Consultants, Batts Audio, Video and Lighting, Turner Construction and Wenger Corporation.
“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 director, music director and others to make sure we met their needs.”
Setting the Foundation
The focal point of the PAC is a 900-seat theatre. It needed to serve the many students focused on theatre, music and other fine arts within the school, as well as the surrounding community.
WJHW recommended installing a Wenger Diva® Acoustical Shell with a maple veneer finish. The shell, known for its flexibility and superb acoustics, has 10 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 an attention to detail required 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 ISD. 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.”
Mark Batts, CEO of Batts Audio, Video and Lighting (AVL) 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.
“This is a premier performing arts space, so everyone wanted the best equipment,” Batts said. “J.R. Clancy products fit the bill and the budget, which was a big benefit.”
“We really appreciated that Wenger Corporation was very deliberate in making sure we knew how things worked,” said Tim Brendler, Head of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at I.M Terrell. “Our entire team appreciated that they walked us through every element and possible configuration. The flexibility that it affords us is wonderful.”
The main stage also has a custom-designed Wenger 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.
Adding a Black Box Theatre
Including a Black Box Theatre provided a separate, smaller performance space where Wenger’s StageTek® Seated Risers and Staging equipment can be configured in a variety of ways. It also has a portable sound system with different places to plug in the speakers, and LED lighting with a dimmer rack. This setup allows the PAC team to set the mood for any performance.
“We can host a larger audience by placing seated risers around the entire room and then performing in the round,” Brendler said.
They can even host other events in the space, like robotics competitions and small theatre productions.
Similar to the shell in the theatre, Brendler says the flexibility of the risers is key. “It’s great to have so many different levels,” he said. “When hosting show choir competitions, we can quickly and easily manipulate the configuration.”
Practice Makes Perfect
The new PAC wing also houses band, orchestra and choral rooms. It was critical for the school to create an entire suite of practice, rehearsal and performance areas with built-in acoustic systems.
The band room houses Wenger Nota® chairs to ensure proper posture and Roughneck™ music stands which are durable enough to handle daily use. AcoustiCabinets® line the walls for efficient instrument storage, which include specially designed grille doors, acoustically absorptive material and reliable durability to produce storage that can help enhance the room’s acoustical performance.
Teachers and students are most excited about the four modular SoundLok® Sound Isolation Rooms with VAE® technology that allow individuals and small groups to practice in their own private space, without interrupting nearby rehearsals. The rooms are 25 percent quieter than others, and they have the correct amount of absorption and diffusion so the musicians can clearly hear the best possible sound. Plus, virtual acoustics options allow the students to learn how to adapt to performing in different performance spaces, and it offers immediate feedback with a record/playback function.
“Most teachers are in an environment where there are eight ensembles happening in the same room,” Brendler said. “The modules we installed provide different spaces for ensembles and individual practice.” He says the rooms are used all day, every day by students. “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.”
The nearby choral room includes Nota® chairs, StageTek® risers, Rack ‘N Roll® Garment Racks, four additional Soundlok® Sound Isolation Rooms and eight music library units.
Sound and video systems in the choral and band rooms also have integrated processors connecting them with each other as well as the auditorium. That means that if they host a large program or competition, the performers waiting in the band room can hear and see what is happening in the auditorium to gauge when it is 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… The city itself needed it, not just the school.”
“The city itself needed it, not just the school.”
The new PAC is stunning and impressive by all accounts. Wide hallways lead to generous specialty classrooms with all the latest technology and useful equipment. Everything about it is impressive.
“The community loves it. The symphony and opera have played here, 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. From the practice rooms to the rehearsal spaces to the hall, everything sounds great.”
Click here to view virtual tours of the new PAC at I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA.