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Nov. 24, 2004

Old Blair auditorium likely to be renovated

by Stephanie Nguyen, Page Editor
Blair alum Ben Stein and County and State officials including U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, County Executive Doug Duncan and Maryland State Senator Ida Ruben are all backing efforts to renovate the old Blair auditorium.

"The community group working on this project has finally reached a point where we can start being a bit optimistic about the outcome," Dave Ottalini, co-president of the Silver Spring International Middle School (SSI) PTSA and a Blair parent, said on the Blair list-serve.

The 1,200 seat auditorium at the old Blair building, now used by SSI, has not been in usable condition ever since Blair relocated from its Wayne Avenue campus to University Boulevard six years ago, according to Ole Varmer, Co-Chair of the auditorium renovation committee. Since its closure, the old Blair auditorium renovation committee, which consists of parents, residents and members of the art community, has tried to raise money to fund the estimated $1.5 to $2 million renovation project.

The committee has been lobbying for the auditorium's renovation due to safety concerns and the necessity for a large space for the SSI, Sligo Creek Elementary School and art communities. There is a need for the auditorium to accommodate school assemblies, concerts, back-to-school nights and other large-scale, special events at SSI and Sligo Creek Elementary, according to Ann Collins, a committee-member and SSI parent. She also noted that SSI is the only middle school in the county that does not have a multi-purpose room.

When the old Blair was restored, reopened, and divided into SSI and Sligo in 1999, MCPS did not renovate the auditorium because of budget shortfalls and a system policy that says middle schools can not have auditoriums. Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast permitted the community to renovate it through private donations and grants.

For a few years, SSI has used its gym and courtyard for school concerts. But because of the terrible acoustics and the lack of a stage, SSI must reserve Sligo's multi-purpose room or new Blair's 700-seat auditorium well in advance, adding to the inconvenience of transporting heavy instruments and long-term planning. "It's so difficult to get these places, since Blair and Sligo use them for their own concerts and plays," the SSI Middle Years Program (MYP) Coordinator Liz Cison said. "We have to sit down with them at the end of the school year and work out a plan for the next school year."

Safety is a concern for many parents and residents as well. The auditorium has no sprinkler system, and there are breaks and small holes in the fire wall. The facility also needs to be brought up to code to make it safer for SSI and Sligo students adjoining the auditorium.

SSI hosts the MYP, a specialized art, theater and dance program, associated with the International Baccalaureate Program, which requires a large area for their performances and final exit exam. "Our students don't have a place to perform in order to successfully demonstrate their mastery of their art skills," said Cison.

The old Blair auditorium was not only a major performing arts center for the Blair community, but it was one of the best-used facilities in the greater Washington area before its closure, according to Busy Graham, Co-Chair for the auditorium renovation committee and executive director of Class Acts Arts, a nonprofit arts outreach organization. Stevie Wonder, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Ella Jenkins and Trout Fishing in America were among the many artists who performed at the old auditorium. Grammy-award winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer held their popular Annual Holiday Family Concert there for almost 15 years.

Efforts are underway to get local and federal grants to help with the renovation of the auditorium, according to Varmer. Mikulski has backed a federal grant proposal that called the old Blair auditorium "an extension of Silver Spring's arts and entertainment district" and part of the city's revitalization.

Ruben and Duncan have also proposed $500,000 and a minimum of $2,500 matching bonds, respectively. County Council members Steve Silverman, Tom Perez, George Lezenthal and many other local officials verbally support the project as well.

Stein has agreed to be an honorary Co-Chair of the Blair Auditorium Renovation Fundraising Committee in order to increase awareness of the project. The committee is looking for a secondary honorary Co-Chair to serve with him, according to Collins.

Currently, the committee has a total of $7,000 and plans to raise more money through corporate and alumni donations.

If the auditorium is revived, it could serve as an affordable but large public venue for local artists, cultural and religious groups, touring companies and area businesses according to Collins. "It can contribute to Silver Spring's economy and give artists a more professional feel and broader audiences," Varmer added.

Varmer expects half of the cost of maintenance to come from rental and ticket fees and the other half from fundraising.

If you are interested or want to donate money to the renovation of the old Blair auditorium, log on to

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  • good for it on November 25, 2004
    Good for the Old Blair Auditorium.
  • =) on November 28, 2004
    I think it's great that they're doing this, but there are also other, more pressing issues that a little bit of funding could help solve.

    There are things that our schools need and aren't getting.

    Let's face it, we don't need the old blair auditorium to be new again. Not until we have solved some other problems.
  • SSi graduate on November 29, 2004
    i believe that the Renovation efforts recieved a large boost in the form of a $10,000 donation/grant from the arts community of downtown silver spring. GO SSI!
  • Hooray on November 30, 2004
    Finally! It sucked going through SSI without being able to use the auditorium. Oh, and just a note to the author of this article, you forgot to mention the name of the journalist who both graduated from Blair, and worked with another journalist to bust the Watergate scandal.
  • word on November 30, 2004
    you mean woodward and bernstein?
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