Chatham ZBA OKs new year-round stage for PS21

Weather won’t deter performances at $6M facility

CHATHAM—The town Zoning Board of Appeals has granted a special use permit to Questaterra, LLC, the owner of the 100+ acres of apple orchards, meadows and woods on Route 66 on which PS21: Performance Space for the 21st Century is situated.

The permit allows PS21 to construct a new building on the property for use all year-round. The building will consist of a 99-seat black box theater—a small, simple theater with flexible performance space and seating. In warm weather, the building will open up to become a 300-seat pavilion theater.

“It’s covered,” Judy Grunberg, founder and board president of PS21, hastened to reassure. “It’s not exposed to weather. Part of the charm of the tent was exposure to the outdoors. You don’t want to remove that completely, you want to feel that you’re in the country.

“But rain was very loud on the tent,” she said. “This will be more protected, with an insulated roof.”

“The tent” was an elegant saddlespan tent under which hundreds of performances—music, theater, dance and movies—had taken place every summer since 2006. “The audience loves the tent, and we got permission from the ZBA to keep the tent forever,” said Ms. Grunberg.

But tents don’t last forever; PS21 has borrowed a saddlespan tent for this summer because after eight years, its own tent was failing. And the huge but seasonal tent was logistically difficult because it required a crew to put it up and take it down year after year.

Further, the tent was not easy on the performers, said Ms. Grunberg, requiring a nearby trailer for dressing rooms and rest rooms. And while the large portable toilets, with running water, provided for the audience were worth the price of admission, the new building will have interior rest rooms, showers for the performers, rehearsal space and a small café. “No luxury,” Ms. Grunberg said firmly, “but all those kinds of things that make the experience a little better.”

The estimated cost of the new building, she said, is between $6 million and $6.5 million.

“First we thought we’d build a replacement for the tent, like a tent but a permanent structure,” she said. That came in at about $2.5 million. “If we were going to do that, we decided to add a year-round component. It’s more expensive but it’s worth it.”

Last year Questaterra applied to the ZBA for a use variance for a permanent structure on the property, farther up the hill from the tent’s location. Ms. Grunberg said she had hoped to have a new building for PS21’s 10th anniversary season, this year. Neighbors had objections, however, so Ms. Grunberg withdrew the application and went to work with Evan Stoller, an architect in New Lebanon, and a team consisting of an acoustician, engineer and lighting designer.

“I’m glad we withdrew the application and redesigned the building, said Ms. Grunberg. “It’s less intrusive for the few immediate neighbors, and less noisy for the surrounding area. The ZBA is satisfied that we mitigated every environmental issue, and they did an excellent job in accommodating the few complaints that came in.”

Now Ms. Grunberg is “chomping on the bit,” she says, to get the building constructed for PS21’s 2016 season, which is her 50th year living in Columbia County. “Once you make a decision, you should go ahead,” she says.

Winter programming is still in the talking stage. Possibilities are dance workshops and educational programming.

Going ahead with the permanent building has been over a decade in the making. When Ms. Grunberg founded PS21 in 1999, with the goal of bringing world-class performances to Columbia County, she envisioned a building on the property. “The economy was strong in 2000,” she says. “We had a feasibility study done to see if we could raise $14 million. I had big dreams for that property.”

But neighbors feared noise, light and traffic in the rural area.

So Ms. Grunberg and the board decided to get people on the site in a tent. “Now people know our programming,” “we’ve done nine years of ‘show me.’”

If the tent had lasted forever, the PS21 board might never have decided to build. “The tent brought the moment when we had to make a decision,” says Ms Grunberg: “buy another tent, or take the opportunity to make this a fabulous place for the community. I’m very glad the board supported that.”

The PS21 season opens Sunday, June 28 at 2 p.m. with the 10th annual Paul Grunberg memorial Bach Concert. Named in memory of Ms. Grunberg’s late husband, this year’s concert is cantatas and pieces for orchestra performed by the Broad Street Chorale & Orchestra. For tickets, visit ps21chatham.org or call 800 838-3006.

 

 

 

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