Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Einstein’s visual arts wing receives official approval

Students and teachers gave space their approval during fall debut

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Music students at Albert Einstein High School are practicing this school year in spaces that can sing back to them, while dance students are literally bouncing off the floor of their new dance studio.

The school opened the doors to its new, high-tech music wing this fall, and halfway through the year, teachers and students said the facilities are a big improvement.

‘‘It all seems really high-tech for us,” said Lydia Scott, a senior involved in the school’s music department. ‘‘I’ll be so sad to leave now that it’s all renovated.”

Members of the Montgomery County Board of Education toured the new wing last week and formally approved the three-story addition at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The addition cost $3.17 million, and includes a two-story orchestra room, a dance studio, four soundproof practice rooms and storage rooms.

The former band and chorus rooms were renovated and house the chorus and music technology classes, where students learn to operate mixing boards and microphones.

The new technology incorporated has actually made students want to practice more, teachers say.

Aside from being soundproof, the new practice rooms can emulate several different acoustics as students are playing. Singers can hear their voice echo around a cathedral, concert hall or other simulated spaces with the touch of a button.

Joan Rackey, an Einstein teacher for 33 years, said kids are dying to practice more just to use the state-of-the-art rooms.

‘‘It’s great to see that the kids want to practice so they can use the rooms more,” she said.

Rackey was one of three teachers who helped plan and design the addition, along with architects from Grimm & Parker of Bethesda, who also helped design the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

‘‘Oh man, those practice rooms,” said George Vargas, a senior and saxophone player in the school’s concert and jazz bands. ‘‘We do individual sessions [in them] and we’re listening to hear our sound so we can improve.”

The orchestra and band room — on the first and second levels — is wider, longer and taller than the old room with a ceiling at least 16 feet high. Drums and other instruments have lockers in the room, and the acoustics are better than the old room because of the larger size.

‘‘[The old room] looked like a bowling alley because it was so long and narrow,” Rackey said. ‘‘Years ago, there were rumors that kids were complaining about headaches because it was too loud, the decibel level was too high.”

The adjoining instrument storage room is humidity-controlled to keep wood instruments from cracking and warping. One of the two former storage rooms also held the school’s electric circuit breakers. The other was a densely packed 12-foot by 12-foot room with barely enough room for students to get their stored instruments.

A dance studio on the third level features a ceiling around 15 feet high, as well as wide windows that overlook the school’s landscaping and a springy floor.

‘‘The floor is sprung so that it has some give, and it’s easier on knees and joints,” said Tricia Gouley, dance teacher. ‘‘Plus there is just so much more room so the kids can spread out.”

Construction on the 10,000-square-foot wing began in July 2006, and was ready for students by August. The addition was built to support the school’s growing Visual and Performing Arts Academy, the only one in the downcounty consortium. The group includes Montgomery Blair, John F. Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton High schools in addition to Einstein.

Delmer Padgett, head of the music department, estimated that at least 300 students take a music class at Einstein.

‘‘We have the space to develop our programs,” he said. ‘‘We feel we have the facilities really needed to help our students reach for excellence.”