Education Restoration/Renovation

Historic Train Depot Reimagined as New Academic Arts Center

Boston – Middlesex Community College has purchased the former Boston & Maine Railroad Depot at Towers Corner in Lowell for a new performing arts venue.  Leers Weinzapfel’s design restores the depot’s deteriorating exterior masonry and incorporates a redesigned interior that contains three major teaching spaces—a 100-seat music recital hall, dance studio, and a two-story, 177-seat “egg” theater.

Preserved by the National Park Service as a historically important downtown gateway, the 20,000sf renewed structure is now part of the city’s revitalized urban core.

Richard and Nancy Donahue Family Arts Center Exterior/photo by Robert Benson

On the second floor, the recital hall and dance studio take advantage of the center’s high roof. Along the sidewalk, a linear gallery and theater lobby display student activity and invite the public in through a main entry at the base of the building’s landmark clock tower.


Model of Theatre/photo by Robert Benson

Exterior expansion of the depot to accommodate the center’s growing departments was constrained by an existing historic district building that fills the site. Instead, the building’s interior space was nearly doubled through excavation and construction of a new basement and a new rear addition housing the mechanical support spaces.

Interior Theatre/photo by Robert Benson

The project’s approach to sustainability is primarily defined by the extensive renovation of an unused historic building in a pedestrian friendly urban center near public transportation

Additionally, existing building materials were reused, and new building materials were recycled or rapidly renewable. The center also incorporates a high-performance building envelope, water-saving technologies, and high-efficiency equipment and automated controls that reduce energy use and improve the indoor environment.

The theater’s unique form solves multiple design challenges: structure to support the facade, functional to maximize theater seating while allowing for adequate lobby circulation, and metaphorical to represent the arts resurgence in this once thriving city.