Beginning this March, Belmont Hill will undertake a major renovation project on the much beloved Hamilton Chapel. After being transplanted to Belmont Hill’s campus from Connecticut during the early 1960s, the Chapel is a landmark of this campus and has hosted countless community moments. However, as the school has grown significantly since that time, the building in its current form no longer serves all of the intended functions for that space. Firstly, the current layout simply does not afford enough space for students, faculty, staff, and guests to sit during programs (at present, the 450 seats in the Chapel barely accommodate the student body, leaving the faculty and staff to stand in the back or outside). More specifically, the stage and acoustics are not optimal for musical performances. Currently, when the stage expands to fit the orchestra or a theatrical performance, an entire section of seating for the third form is lost in the front of the chapel to the right of the stage. As a result of these shortcomings, in the last few years the school’s long term strategic plan deemed renovating the chapel a high priority.
The decision to renovate and expand the chapel triggered an architectural investigation into how best to maintain the existing chapel and its basic elements with respect to its historical importance to the school, while also making it a space suitable to the community’s needs in the 21st century. After much hard work, the construction company in conjunction with the school decided on the best way to achieve this delicate goal. First, the hallway behind the stage will be removed, as will the back-wall of the building that faces the soccer turf. The turf will then be moved further away from the building, and the footings of the foundation will be expanded into the space where the turf now lies. Additionally, wings will be added to the left and right of the stage, in essence making the building “T” shaped from a bird’s eye view. The balconies will be expanded, and new sections of seating will be implemented in the new wings. This will bring the building’s capacity from 450 to 650, easily seating all students, faculty, and staff, and leaving ample room for visitors.
Additionally, the building will be home to many technological advancements, including a hydraulic stage that lifts up from the ground when needed for musical performances. The pews in and around the stage will also be removable to make this expansion possible. The basement will be renovated, and eventually it will serve as a multi-purpose space that can be used as a classroom or for small receptions. There will also be a small kitchen area and a soundproof room for warming-up prior to musical performances. In addition, improvements will be made to make the building more “green”, including new storm windows and insulating the building. The school also explored the idea of using geothermal energy, but it was ultimately not a cost-effective or practical option given the size of the building. In addition, the building will be made handicapped accessible with an elevator from the basement to the ground floor and handicap entrances in either wing beside the stage.
The timeframe for this project will span a little less than one year. Beginning in March 2019, the school will begin preparing the worksite. It turns out all of the utilities for the school run underneath the area behind the chapel, so those will have to be moved in order for construction to begin. Then, in the late spring, construction will commence with the goal of completion in January 2020. This will mean that the school’s regular chapel meetings will take place in an alternate location, likely the gym, for the first semester of next school year. However, based on what we have heard, the wait will certainly be worth it.