Architect for PAC renovation gives design updates

If all goes as planned, the approximately $10 million Performing Arts Center renovation should be open for business by 2020. The architect at the reins of the project, Paul Schmitt, said he appreciates being chosen for the design of this project and gave some updates at the PAC on Sept. 11.

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Architect guiding the Performing Arts Center renovation Paul Schmitt gives an update on the project. From left are Highlands Playhouse Managing Director, Lance Matzke; Schmitt; Vice President of Playhouse Board of Directors, Debi Bock; PAC Board Member in Charge of Capital Campaigns, Cindy Trevathan; Barbara Werder of Highlands Cashiers Players; and PAC Executive Director, Mary Adair Trumbly.

Two overriding themes in Schmitt’s design are to have the circulation of guests all on one level thereby eliminating the issue of handicap accessibility. Secondly, the stage level is “truly” at floor level making it easier for techies to move around or if the need arises to move heavy equipment in or out.

“All circulation is on this level except backstage,” said Schmitt. “I feel really good about the mobility of this facility.”

Schmitt added that the three story facility will also be elevator accessible so wheelchair access is not an issue from the rear parking lot.

Another highlight is a catering kitchen.

“There’s no cooking,” said Schmitt. “We’re not in the position to have a restaurant here, just service.”

The current catering area is too small to serve the increased number expected guests.

The staging area will be modeled after a similar project in Rabun Gap where the orchestra pit is an 8-foot section that can be raised or lowered via a coil system underneath.

“I’ve decided to create a similar situation here (as Rabun Gap), this gives a lot of flexibility,” said Schmitt.

This is Schmitt’s first theater project and he explained he was going to need a team of experts to do it properly.

“As the process went on I saw this project demands more expertise than I bring to the table,” he said. “I’ve brought in people who have done theater projects in the past and developed a team of people interested and capable to do this.”

The project entails landscaping, interior design, engineers, acoustics, lighting and sound, and theatrical rigging systems. The new theater will be designed to direct and reflect sound to accommodate a speech, theater production, music performance or concert; even hanging acoustic curtains from the ceiling.

The Black Box Theater houses 85 seats that are retractable depending on the event.

“It’s a multi-purpose space, the padded seats can fold up and slide back,” said Schmitt. “We can do a full theater performance in that space.”

He added that the Black Box Theater is a genuine movie theater.

“It’s a true movie theater with soft cushiony chairs,” said Schmitt.

Outside aesthetics will include stone, glass, shingles and a metal roof.

“We want something modern but not too shy too far away from what we were,” said Schmitt.

Inside will include a glass railing system along the main staircase and wood tile and carpets for a “warm feel.”

The main theater will be carpeted, but the first three rows will have a wooden floor for sound reflection so it doesn’t fizzle out in the carpet.

The upstairs will have office space, multi-use space and meeting space.

PAC Board Member in Charge of Capital Campaigns, Cindy Trevathan, said operational costs will increase in a larger facility. However, with the potential for renting out the facility for other events and increased ticket sales, ideally the increased operational costs will be offset.

“We’re bringing in another 150 tickets while the cost of the show remains the same,” said Trevathan. “Hopefully some of the costs will offset operating in a larger facility, but we’re going to continue to work and think of ways to generate revenue.”

Schmitt said the next step is to review some construction documents and bid out the building contract through local contractors. He said if all goes smoothly construction will begin in late October and take a minimum of a year and a half. Construction will take place in two phases. First is to create parking next door before the current parking lot is eliminated.

“First we have to get that in place next door,” said Schmitt. “We’ll have replaced the parking before removing any asphalt.”

Highlands Playhouse Vice President Debi Bock said having five organizations in one facility can get confusing, but her primary concern is the timeline stressing the importance of finishing construction in time for the 2020 season.

“We have our plays already lined up for 2020 so we better be ready,” said Bock.

Managing Director of the Playhouse, Lance Matzke, is looking forward to the transition to the PAC.

“The potential for growth for all organizations involved is really great,” he said.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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PAC Design Team


Lead Architect – Paul Schmitt Design Studio, PLLC

30+ years in residential & commercial in N.C., Ga., S.C., and Tenn.

Landscape Architect:

Ross Landscaping Architecture

Site Design including Hardscape, Plantings, Parking, and Hydrology

30+ years in residential and commercial in Atlanta and Highlands.

Interior Design:

Lucas & Patton – Chad Lucas

Interior design consultant throughout facility.

30+ years in residential & commercial in N.C., Ga., S.C. and Fla.


Johnson, Laschober, & Associates, PC

Structural, Mechanical, Plumbing, and Fire safety.

40+ years of experience in Ga., S.C., N.C., & Fla.

Theater Acoustic Design:

Egan Acoutsics – David Egan

Architectural acoustics and noise control.

50+ Teaching Acoustics, Theatrical Acoustic Design & Consulting Internationally.

Theatrical Lighting & Sound Design:

dB INTEGRATIONS a division of dB Acoustics & Sound, Inc.

30+ years in the design & installation of theatrical acoustics, sound, & lighting.

Theatrical Rigging Systems:

Productions Unlimited, Inc.

Building layout and space planning including theatrical equipment.

20+ years in the design & installation of theatrical rigging, draperies, sound and lighting.

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