Moya Design Partners has completed a holistic redesign of Elizabeth Seton High School’s Mahler Center for the Performing Arts auditorium. Seton’s perspective on the value of learning has been an inspiration to our team throughout the process. Construction has officially kicked off, and their new facility is set to open in the fall!
Since 1959, Seton High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Bladensburg, Maryland, has empowered young women to learn, lead, and serve others. Seton inspires its students to reach goals, open their minds, and prepare to adapt and succeed in the future.
The Daughters of Charity founded Seton High School in 1957. Named in honor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, founder of the first free Catholic school in America, the school opened with an enrollment of 138 students and six teachers. In 1968, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accredited Seton High School. By 2005, it was named one of 10 private schools of distinction by The Washington Post. The school motto is “Light to know, grace to do,” and today the enrollment is 552.
Seton High School initiated their renovations after a business review by education consultants Enrollment Catalyst. The report recommended updates to some of the school’s facilities. Seton hired our design team to improve the auditorium’s acoustics and aesthetics and to add an elevator to meet their goal of becoming a more accessible and inclusive community.
On November 30th, 2017, Seton kicked off a capital campaign to fund the project. The school’s orchestra and choir performed, as did the wind ensemble, the dance team, and the Seton Theatre Company. The Most Reverend Bishop Barry Knestout of the Archdiocese of Washington attended and praised the project, especially the addition of an elevator for better accessibility.
Sister Ellen Marie Hagar (DC ’74) said, “Not only will this campaign bring forth a much-needed change for our performing arts department, but it will also allow Seton to be a catalyst for change in our community as we partner with others to allow the arts to give expression to many talents, to connect generations of people, and to provide opportunities for others to enjoy, to learn, to create, and to celebrate.”
The quality of Seton’s performing arts program is well known throughout Prince George’s County. Music students can choose from chorus, orchestra, concert band, or symphonic band. Theater students study Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, and other classics and take studio classes in modern acting, character study, voice, and movement. A variety of dance classes are on offer, including ballet, modern, jazz, and hip hop. The Seton High School performing arts program nurtures students’ creativity, talents, and enthusiasm.
For serious theater students, The Seton Theatre Company extends learning after school. Meeting twice weekly in the auditorium, the company performs at open houses as well as producing a play in the fall and musical each spring.
Seton’s high-quality arts programs bring performances to the community and give students on-stage and behind-the-scenes training. The renovation of their auditorium will enhance each one of these learning opportunities while enriching the arts in Prince George’s County.
MOYA’s work on the design phase for Seton High School’s auditorium began in January 2018. We revised the schematic design, and we prepared plans for the interiors. We’re supporting Seton High School in a predesign phase for the elevator to present to the Prince George’s County Planning Board.
Meanwhile, the 7,500-square-foot auditorium is transforming into a state-of-the-art performing arts venue. Among the most exciting improvements are:
new telescopic seating for 640 spectators
sound control/acoustical systems
integrated specialized audiovisual equipment and lighting
advanced sound systems for theatrical productions
a new HVAC system
and a new vestibule area
Moya Design Partners Senior Architect Ligia Saldana said that one of the design challenges our team enjoyed with this project was the school’s request to accommodate the retractable seats for 640 spectators. The modules are large, and they move, so we had to challenge our expertise while designing the space to allow for their dynamic characteristics.
The remodelled auditorium also has a new AV platform to locate the equipment for theatrical performances. Another challenge was that initially we located the modules but didn’t have space for the platform! It took some interdisciplinary cooperation from everyone involved to ultimately lay out all of Seton’s wish list. It was a close and commendable effort between Seton, the supplier, the AV consultant, the contractor, and our MOYA team.
Working closely with Elizabeth Seton High School to meet these challenges has been a great inspiration, and we’re excited to see the client’s vision come to life in the finished product! The auditorium’s selective demolition phase began on July 30, and final inspection is scheduled for the end of November.