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More than 40 University of Maryland College Park architecture students are creating environmentally-conscious designs for a proposed performing arts center in North Beach.

On Friday, the students and their professors met with North Beach residents and community leaders to discuss the town’s regulations for designs and development and what the community hopes the center would look like.

The pilot studio class explores “the value of civic engagement on anticipatory design approaches to climate change impact,” a press release from the town explains.

“We’re looking at research and design strategies to see what is it that we can do,” Professor Luis Diego Quiros said during his presentation to the community. “It’s not about building things, but about proposing natural elements, natural systems that will actually protect the coast.”

Specifically, the class is looking at designing and adapting the town’s infrastructure as sea levels rise due to climate change.

The press release states, “[The studio’s] results are expected to offer potential clues as to how towns can prepare community members to understand and deal with the possible environmental changes.”

The students have three possible sites for their performing arts center design, said E. Philip McCormick, architect and professional planner with North Beach. One site is 5th Street and Bay Avenue, the second is 7th Street and Bay Avenue and the newest is 3rd Street and Chesapeake Avenue. Town Engineer and Zoning Administrator John Hofmann told the students that two of the locations are in the flood zone.

Grace Mary Brady, with the Bayside History Museum, gave a short presentation about the town’s history.

“We constantly evolve. We constantly adapt,” she told the students, adding that many of the existing buildings were home to uses that aren’t occupying that space currently. “This was the Ocean City for Maryland, [Washington,] D.C., and Virginia until they built the Bay Bridge.”

Brady told the students the town “goes underwater frequently,” and to take into account mold and mildew issues that frequent the town when deciding building materials.

Michael Hartman, an architect on the town’s planning commission, gave a presentation on the town’s comprehensive plan. He described the town as a “vibrant and very engaged … resort town.”

“We want to see more of mixed communities and mixed development,” he said, such as living spaces above commercial and retail shops.

Hofmann, who gave a brief presentation about the town’s zoning and the town’s infrastructure, said about half of the town is in the critical area, which is important to consider when designing the performing arts center.

He explained there are several zoning districts in the town: a residential district, two residential and mixed use districts, neighborhood commercial, town center commercial, a waterfront district and a park and recreational district.

“What you’re going to be doing is really an extension of” the town’s master plan, McCormick said of the students’ work. “Part of what your challenge is, is to see how to resolve” the issue of flooding in the most densely developed areas.

The students also heard from Peggy McKelly, vice president of the North Beach Performing Arts Center Foundation Inc., and Sid Curl, president of the Twin Beach Players, about what the space would be used for and how they visualize the space.

McKelly told the students the foundation envisions an arts center “anchored” by local arts, but they also want to attract national acts on occasion.

“We want it to be a draw for the area. We want it to be a facility that really draws people and then keeps them here to explore the community,” she said.

Curl told the class to take into account that young children will be using the center as well. He also told them to “accommodate equity” with the dressing rooms, showers and a sound and lighting booth.

“We want to be able to accommodate all the arts,” Curl said, such as theatre, music and dance. He also emphasized that safety needs to be incorporated into the design, adding, “I’m a bug for safety.”

Hartman told the students an arts center and a theatre is “a grand, ceremonial building,” and to take that into account when designing. “We don’t want it to be an eye sore, but it really is a signature building of the town.”

Mayor Mark Frazer said Monday that the town covered the class’ transportation costs to and from the town and the university campus. He said he is thinking of making the project a contest for the students to generate more interest. Frazer said he is “considering” prize money in the range of $1,000 for first place.

aharrison@somdnews.com