New era for performing arts space

Party to display 10 months of $4.6 million in exterior renovations at Olympia’s Washington Center

Contributing writerFebruary 21, 2014 

The Washington Center will be getting ready to celebrate its new look and the end of renovations that have kept one lane of Washington Street closed for much of the past eight months.

The center is hosting a rededication ceremony Thursday evening with a reception, speakers and performances by Ballet Northwest and Masterworks Choral Ensemble — both of which performed at the center’s opening in 1985 — and Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia.

“We want to celebrate the new look of the center, the new look of Washington Street and of downtown, and I think a part of it, too, is having a new executive director,” said Jill Barnes, who began running the center in the fall. “It’s really a new era for The Washington Center. There’s a lot new happening.”

The center is at the end of a $4.6 million exterior renovation. Construction work is slated to finish Wednesday, reopening the northbound lane of traffic and parking spaces on the block.

The project was necessary because water was infiltrating the building’s siding, but the result is a new look for the center: a new exterior of brick and stone on the street side and metal on the other walls, a front canopy with lighting, glass doors, ticket windows, poster display windows, another canopy over the adjacent alley and a permanent marquee.

“Two new windows were added on the Washington Street side — the center key logo windows and a new window in the lobby,” said Anne Larsen Matheson, the center’s marketing director. “And the heating and ventilation systems were upgraded.”

The project was expected to wrap up in October, but additional issues were uncovered when the old siding and roof were removed, said Debbie Sullivan, deputy director of public works for the city of Olympia. There also were delays in the arrival of the brick and stone for the siding.

“We found that the exterior walls were crooked and out of alignment by as much as 8 inches both horizontally and vertically,” Sullivan said. “When we stripped off the old siding, we found that water intrusion had caused mold to appear on the exterior sheet rock.”

“Another big part of the delay was that we closed down construction from Thanksgiving through the New Year,” Barnes said. “That was a conscious decision to facilitate the most easy access for our patrons who are coming in to see ‘The Nutcracker’ or Masterworks or the sing-along Messiah.”

Thursday’s rededication will include a talk by local historian Ed Echtle, who’ll speak about the history of the center and the Liberty Theater and Olympic Theater, both of which preceded the center at the same site.

With the renovations completed, Barnes is thinking about the future.

“We want to continue to strengthen our partnerships with the city and our artistic partners as well as with the greater community,” she said. “We want to continue to provide world-class arts experiences and artists here on a world-class stage, not just for the presenting season that we do but for our artistic partners. We want to expand our educational initiatives and to increase and stabilize our funding.”

Washington Center Rededication

What: After 10 months of work, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts celebrates its new look and its place in the community with speakers and performances.

When: Reception at 5 p.m. Thursday; program from 6-7 p.m.

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: Free

More information: 360-753-8586 or

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