January 18, 2012

President of American Boychoir School Says New Campus Will Allow for Expansion


A NEW VENUE: Students of the American Boychoir School (ABS) have been rehearsing in the chapel on the campus of their new home, the Princeton Center for Arts & Education, at the 47-acre former St. Joseph’s Seminary. Future plans for the school include public performances in the chapel. The Boychoir, set to move in completely by next fall, is sharing the campus with the Wilberforce School and the French-American School of Princeton. ABS will hold an open house at its current location on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

By the time school starts next September, students of the American Boychoir School (ABS) are scheduled to be settled into their new home at the Princeton Center for Arts & Education (PCAE), a 47-acre expanse on Mapleton Road that was formerly home to St. Joseph’s Seminary. The move from its current headquarters at the Albemarle mansion several miles south means that the celebrated choral academy will be able to substantially increase its programs, scope, student body, and accessibility to the public.

While the 18-acre, 18-bedroom Albemarle is currently on the market for $5.9 million, the new President and CEO of the Boychoir School says the move to the new campus doesn’t depend upon the sale. “There has been a series of interested parties, and there are ongoing negotiations with various parties,” said Dean Orton, who took on his new role as head of ABS and the PCAE on January 1. “But we still have ideas about what will happen if we don’t sell. We would love the right terms and the right offer, but if we aren’t able to get it, we have other options.”

The school is currently operating out of both campuses. An open house on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Albemarle campus on Lambert Drive, will include auditions for boys in grades 3-7. The goal is to have all of the ABS students who board moved into the new location in time for the next school year. But some activities will continue at Albemarle as long as it remains unsold, Mr. Orton said.

In the meantime, Mr. Orton, who came to ABS from his job as senior vice president of Media Services and chief development officer for Connecticut Public Broadcasting, is busy focusing on the opportunities that the new campus will allow. In addition to a gym, ample green space for recreation, and room for the current enrollment of 51 to rise to more than 80, there is the chapel, which can seat about 400.

“It’s gorgeous, and it has wonderful acoustics,” Mr. Orton said. “The idea of having our own performance venue, where the public can come to hear concerts, is very exciting. We will look to record there, too. We have already done some audio and acoustic testing. And if all goes well, we will even look to doing some television there. We want to go beyond just audio recordings at some point.”

Adding television would be a natural for Mr. Orton, who has spent his career in public media. The 40-year-old Minnesota native began his career at a small station in a rural area of the state, getting into senior management and moving on to bigger and bigger markets with an emphasis on fundraising. In Connecticut, he led a team of 60 in the areas of content, network operations, development, and community engagement. He was instrumental in the creation of a new journalism school for middle-and-high-school students in Hartford.

“Public media is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “There is a constant stream of change, and you have to work your way through that. But I love the arts and education. That’s what kept me in public media.”

Mr. Orton was selected after a nationwide search assisted by the Catherine French Group of Washington, D.C., a major arts -leadership search firm. He is currently living in Plainsboro with his wife and three small children. The family will move to the PCAE campus when renovations are complete.

ABS will share some resources with the two other schools on the campus, both of which have already relocated to the new site. While the schools will maintain their separate identities, they will collaborate when possible.

“The overall concept for the facility is that if there is any way to share resources and become more efficient, we will,” Mr. Orton said. “We have a shared interest in arts and education, and the question is, how can we best collaborate? None of us could have done this on our own. But with all three schools, we have created something special.”

The American Boychoir was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1937 and relocated to Princeton in 1950. Boys in grades 4-8 attend the school, and 60 percent are boarders. They come from 18 states and three countries. Under the leadership of Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, the choir follows a rigorous touring schedule and has appeared with such ensembles as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The choir has also performed with such notable musicians as Sir Paul McCartney, Jessye Norman, Wynton Marsalis, and Beyonce.

On the new campus, renovations and construction are continuing. “With all of this new space, there is a lot of expectation ahead of us,” Mr. Orton said. “We want to be more visible in the community. We want to actually be a destination where people can come to enjoy the arts, maybe celebrating the arts in some sort of annual event. We have a lot to look forward to, but we will always remain committed to the Boychoir and the education we’ve provided for nearly 75 years.”

For information about Saturday’s open house, visit www.americanboychoir.org.