Grace Performing Arts Center

Festival 56 had the chance to renovate an old newspaper building and turn it into a theater space for their summer theater festival. The group looked to Key Builders to help them turn their dream into a reality, on a budget that a nonprofit could afford. Terri Zearing is a former president and member of the board of Festival 56 and was the volunteer in charge of design and construction coordination for their new home, the Grace Performing Arts Center.

Tell us a little about Festival 56 and its plans to build a theater.

Our theater group has been in existence since 2003 as a small performing arts nonprofit. We had been presenting multiweek summer theater festivals for the community, and we were using three different venues for the performances, such as the high school auditorium and a community park. The organization reached a point where we wanted to consolidate performances and find a venue we could call our own.

We acquired an empty building in downtown Princeton, and we did a capital campaign in 2008 to renovate it. It was an old newspaper facility and basically needed a major renovation to turn it into a proper theater space. We also needed a box office, concession area, lobby, and more.

Did you have much construction experience when your group began this project?

Being a representative for the organization that owns the building can be very stressful. I knew nothing about building, but we had a couple of people step forward who knew more than I did about these things. The executive director knew what he wanted but didn’t have detailed knowledge about lighting, electrical, or things like that.

But the final product is that we have a great building and quality renovation that we can use for years to come.

Considering your organization’s lack of construction experience, how did Key Builders work with you to make the process a smooth one?

When it comes to Key Builders, they are proactive in communicating. We had weekly meetings at the construction site with design drawings and updates on schedules and cost. It was all very calming. They seemed to have it all under control. They just asked us to make choices by certain dates, and assured us that everything would be good.

It’s a nerve-wracking thing to be spending all of this money. They’re very, very responsive and easy to work with.

Why did you choose Key Builders?

Key builders does a broad scope of projects. And they did such a fantastic job with the renovation of the Princeton Public Library. The library is such a large building, and it’s fascinating how they worked with the original structure. When you see the kind of work that they do, you’re drawn to them.

Did you feel like you got a unique product through Key Builders?

Our theater project was unique for Key Builders, so Key suggested we go to Chicago to tour theaters there. Key got inspired by the trip and designed a really great ceiling for the lobby, which was then painted by a local artist. I was so impressed that they offered to do this trip to see other theaters, and the artist was thrilled with the ceiling’s gorgeous lines and angles. I definitely felt that they had an above-and-beyond attitude. We have a really beautiful renovation because Key Builders does quality work.

From your perspective, what are Key Builder’s best qualities? What differentiates them from their competition?

Responsiveness. They are always there and they will always get you an answer. They are also extremely professional.

They are very well respected and I understand why. They are very up-front with you. They don’t cut corners. They will tell you what work they recommend and don’t recommend. They will tell you what it means if you want to cut corners.

How does working with Key Builders make you feel?

Most of the time I felt confident. I looked forward to those weekly meetings to find out what was going on with our project.

Dollar for dollar, is there added value in working with Key Builders, in comparison with other firms?

I feel they have a lot of integrity. If you’re building a building, you’re not doing something that you’re going to throw away in a couple of years. Key Builders explained that they try to go for as much value as possible for the money. They are very dedicated to that, and that’s a great thing. In this day and age, I often have to say that they don’t make things the way they used to, but Key Builders is definitely on the opposite end of that spectrum.

Did Key Builders save you money during construction?

I got the impression that they try to do things strategically. They take steps to make sure things are done in the right order. They seemed very organized in their communications with and scheduling of contractors. I would think that this would transfer into money savings.