ROCHESTER — In one room, a band teacher blew his saxophone as students tried to play behind him on some Latin-flavored jazz.
In another room, students decked out in paint-speckled smocks were bent over their desks, working diligently.
And in the hallways, senior David Vogel was walking to vocal rehearsal when he noted that he gets to spend at least one year enjoying something previous graduates of Aquinas Institute did not — a Fine Arts Center.
“The kids in the arts feel more truly recognized and blessed so that we can showcase the arts,” he said, adding that he studies theater and sings in the show choir.
Aquinas formally dedicated its Fine Arts Center on Nov. 17, in a ceremony featuring performances by the school’s dancers, singers and musicians. Establishment of the $4.2 million center was funded by a $10 million gift from Robert B. Wegman, chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., and a 1937 graduate of the school. His gift also is funding construction of the school’s new athletic complex, to be completed in spring 2005.
“The arts play a vital role in the academic experience of numerous students at Aquinas,” Wegman said in a statement. “I see this as a wonderful opportunity to improve the facilities of an already outstanding program.”
Now that the school has a Fine Arts Center, Aquinas President Michael R. Daley said the school may create a curriculum that eventually could lead to the school issuing New York state Regents arts diplomas.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve had a growing interest from students in arts, music and theater,” he said. “More than 40 percent take electives in arts programs. We wanted to give them better facilities.”
Currently, 80 Aquinas students take theater classes; 85 students take music classes; and 282 students take art classes, according to Joseph B. Knapp, school spokesman.
The 20,000-foot arts center, which was built onto the school and opened to students last fall, includes three art classrooms; a band room with practice rooms; a chorus room; two computer laboratories. The facility also includes a “black box,” a small performance theater that eventually may be used for a dance program, Knapp said.
Daley added the arts center isn’t just benefiting the school’s arts community — it’s aiding the rest of the school’s faculty and students as well.
“It freed up space to help address other needs of the school,” Daley said, noting that the school was able to create such new facilities as a math lab, a chemistry lab and a new study hall using space previously used by art programs.
Ted Mancini, chairman of the school’s theater/communications department, said he’s glad he no longer has to share space with other departments.
“You don’t have to worry about putting things away because there’s a math lab next period,” he said.
Meanwhile Marilyn Nosky, chairwoman of the art department, said she’s seen the center have a positive effect on students.
“I’m seeing more kids come in after school, taking extra time on their work,” she said.
In previous years, Nosky added, her department had to rotate its art displays in the school’s showcases with displays from other departments. Now, her students have eight of their own showcases plus the arts center’s hallways in which to display their work, she said.
But most important, according to Mancini, is the message students get from creation of the arts center.
“There’s a different level of perceived commitment because there’s a different level of actual commitment,” he said.