A bathroom fix: Restrooms at historic Academy of Music to get major overhaul

  • Debra J’Anthony, the Academy of Music’s executive director, points toward a wall that will be removed as part of an expansion and renovation of the women’s restroom into this vaulted space. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Academy of Music, updated in stages during the past decade, will begin a $325,000 renovation and expansion of its restrooms. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Debra J’Anthony, executive director of the Academy of Music, shown below, says the men’s restroom will be expanded to include new urinals and toilet stalls by making use of adjacent space; the stalls will become gender-neutral. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The back of the Academy of Music, now nearly 130 years old, as seen from New South Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sinks in the women’s restroom at the Academy of Music. This space will be renovated as part of a $325,000 project to modernize the historic theater’s restrooms. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The renovation of the men’s restroom, at left, at the Academy of Music will include expansion into the waiting area to the right. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The women’s restroom at the Academy of Music will expand from four toilet stalls to 10 by removing the wall beneath this vaulted ceiling and using vacant space beyond it. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2021 1:49:12 PM

The venerable Academy of Music has had a number of upgrades in the past decade, from improvements to its stage-house roof, major renovations to its auditorium including the placement of new seats, and the installation of a new marque and canopy to the theater’s front.

Now another renovation has been scheduled, one for a spot in the Northampton theater that’s less visible but pretty important: the basement bathrooms.

It’s an ambitious project expected to cost $325,000, according to Debra J’Anthony, the Academy’s executive director. Grants and other funding worth $225,000 have already been secured from sources such as Smith College and the Beveridge Family Foundation, she notes, and now a public capital campaign to raise an additional $100,000 is getting underway.

The plan includes adding new, modern toilet stalls and touch-free sinks to both the men’s and women’s restrooms, as well as new low-water urinals to the men’s rooms. The bathrooms are also being rechristened and redesigned to be gender-neutral facilities, and the renovations will include hand dryers, a new heating system, and a new ventilation system; the latter is designed to bring fresh air continuously into the spaces.

The men’s room will now be called the “Stalls and Urinals” restroom, and a partition will be added to screen off the urinals from the toilet stalls, allowing the latter to be gender-neutral. The women’s room, meantime, will now be called the “Stalls Only” restroom. That space will be expanded from four stalls to consist of 10 new stalls with water-efficient toilets, according to J’Anthony.

“We’ve had an issue for some time with long lines in the women’s restroom,” she said. “This plan aims to make that much less of a problem.”

With upwards of 60,000 people annually attending events in past years at the city-owned theater, updating the restrooms and improving the overall safety and hygiene of the spaces “is definitely a priority” given the pandemic, J’Anthony added.

The renovations, which will be overseen by Thomas Douglas Architects in Northampton, are expected to begin in March and finish up in June, in time for the Academy to reopen its doors in July for its summer musical theater programs for children and teens — and, J’Anthony added, for the Academy hopefully to resume live programming in September.

“We’re booking for the fall right now,” she said. “This is as good a time as any to do the (renovations) so that everything is in place for when we can welcome audiences back.”

Neither J’Anthony nor Thomas Douglas, principal architect of his firm, are certain when the Academy’s bathrooms last received an overhaul. Douglas said he suspects the fixtures and general look of the spaces date from the 1970s and 1980s. Though his firm has already done the past major renovations in the Academy, this is its first time fixing any plumbing.

The restrooms “have always been kind of damp, so this is an opportunity to improve on that,” Douglas added.

He says the restrooms will also receive new wall, floor and ceiling finishes that are compatible with the overall look and feel of the nearly 130-year-old theater. In addition, his firm will be painting the walls and ceiling of the Academy’s inner lobby, where the concession stand is located, to make that space more compatible as well with the renovations previously done in the auditorium.

J’Anthony said the booking of live events for the fall is predicated on the idea that the vaccination campaign for COVID-19 and continued use of safety protocols will reduce the prevalence of the virus in the commonwealth, in turn easing state restrictions on public gatherings. She notes, however, that much uncertainty remains, including how willing people will be nine months from now to attend performances.

That means fewer events will likely be on tap when the theater reopens, at least for a while.

“We’re not going to get back to where we were” before the pandemic, J’Anthony said. “We can’t just throw open the doors and expect everyone’s going to return right away … It’s going to take a while before we have as much programming as we did before.”

“But when people do come back, I think they’ll be happy with the changes we’ve made,” she added.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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