Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC renovated and expanded a circa 1920 industrial building for use as a performance venue for local, regional, and national companies. Originally built as a service center for Bell Telephone, the abandoned one-story building was constructed of single wythe concrete block, iron trusses, and wood purlins that had suffered significant weather damage over the years. The new Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts was designed as part of an arts “campus” to include a 1,000 seat outdoor amphitheater in a bend of the Rahway River, on a reclaimed brownfield site.

The program includes a 200-seat multi-use theatre, dressing rooms and green room, administrative offices, box office, a multi-purpose classroom, and a dance studio, as well as program support space and concessions. Challenges included creating raked seating and raised stage areas within the existing volume, which was accomplished by removing a portion of the existing concrete slab and pouring a new stepped slab for tiered seating and the raised stage. Additional height over the stage was achieved by altering the existing trusses through the insertion of new steel members and removal of the lower chord. The stage and the dance studio feature a sprung wood floor, and the studio can accommodate small productions of dance, theater, or music. State-of-the-art stage lighting controls and audio-visual systems support a wide range of stage and studio productions.

An existing one-story office wing was replaced with a 1-1/2 story addition clad in translucent material that houses the dance studio and performance/patron support spaces. The exterior wall of the new addition is designed to glow at night, adding further excitement and drama to the theater experience.

The project team is pursuing LEED Certification. The completion of the Hamilton Stage extends Rahway’s significant arts district, which includes the Union County Performing Arts Center, a piano conservatory, and planned artists’ housing and studios.