CAMDEN — A more than $5 million renovation at Camden’s High Mountain Hall is turning the tired old historic structure into a first, and first-class, home for Midcoast music mainstay, Bay Chamber Concerts.

Bay Chamber Concerts & Music School Executive Director Monia Kelly, holding red jacket, with Rockport officials and contractors during a visit to the Mountain Street site of BCC’s new home. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Founded in 1961 as a modest chamber music concert series, the organization has always rented concert halls and teaching space to pursue its mission of concerts, education and community engagement — until now that is.

“It is so exciting. It is more than twice as big as where we are currently,’ said Executive Director Monica Kelly, noting they will go from operating in 3,900 square feet to about 8,500 and will include a 100-seat concert hall.

The move from the Shepherd Block Building at 18 Central St. in Rockport Village to 5 Mountain St. in Camden was prompted by the organization’s continued growth. The search for new quarters  began in earnest earlier this year — but buying and renovating was not on anyone’s mind — let alone spending upwards of $6.3 million on the project.

“We started to look at opportunities to move into a bigger space, and at the time we were thinking we’d still be renting,” said Kelly. “But we learned this building was on the market.”

What they found was just what they needed and a lot more, albeit some of it unexpected. First, they found a place they could afford. And secondly, they found a place where all of the nonprofit’s moving and musical parts could fit comfortably under one roof. That had never happened before.

The purchase of the former church building, and more recently a dance studio and event venue —  for the price of $1.3 million would mean that for the first time in its 62-year history, Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School would own its own home. And most exciting for Kelly and her staff was the realization that, also for the first time, they would be able to have office space, music classrooms and a concert hall in the same building, and all right near bustling downtown Camden.

BCC Executive Director Monica Kelly confers during an Oct. 12 site visit with Rockport Planning and Development Director, Jeremy Martin (r) and EM Builders construction manager Andrew Marchetti. Photo by Jack M. Foley

“It is kind of a miracle,” said Kelly, 65. An accomplished artist, she began her journey with BCC initially as a board member. That was 1996. She has been executive director for 12 years.

The purchase of the Camden venue did not come without a few expensive surprises, however.

“Once we purchased it, we realized there were some underlying foundation and drainage problems,” she explained. “That required us to take on a much bigger project, but in the end we are really excited about it.”

One post-purchase discovery was that the building, constructed in the mid-1800s replete with a tall steeple long since removed, was built on ledge, or shallow bedrock, and had only a shallow crawlspace under its flooring. And beneath that flooring was discovered mostly rotten wooden supports that would not sustain the planned use of the two-story structure.

And so all of the old support structure was ripped out and the space filled in with gravel topped by a vapor barrier in preparation for a new wood first floor. And to give the second floor needed stability, massive steel I-beams anchored to concrete piers were installed wall-to-wall for support.

The failing rear portion of High Mountain Hall on Mountain Street in Camden was razed. After the renovation, the structure will offer about 8,500 square feet of office, classroom and 100-seat concert hall space. It is expected to open in September 2024. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Finally, the failing back portion of the building was razed. A new, modern version will be built in its place, on almost the same footprint. But initially, contractors have poured lots and lots of perimeter foundation and some concrete slab, all of steel reinforced concrete, to firmly ground the new construction. New electricity and plumbing, including a two-way drainage system, will also be installed per town building codes, as will pleasant landscaping. A tall cedar hedge facing onto Mountain Street and several specimen tress will be removed, officials said.

In all, the building will end up with around 8,500 square feet of space — a gain of 1,400 — on two floors and at least 36 parking spaces, according to Kelly. Construction is expected to wind up in August 2024 with a grand opening anticipated in September, according to Kelly.

Town officials met with Kelly and the design, construction and landscaping teams at the site on Oct. 12 for an update on project progress.

Among them were planning board members Patt (cq) Chen, Ethan Shaw and Christopher Rheault and Planning and Development Director, Jeremy Martin. Also attending were Michael Sabatini of Landmark Corporation Surveyors and Engineers of Rockport, and Andrew Marchetti of EM Builders, construction managers.

Floor supports under the High Mountain Hall floor were so rotted they had to be removed and replaced with gravel and new supports. Massive steel i-beams were set in place to hold up the second floor. A new wood ground floor will be installed in what will be a 100-seat concert hall. Photo by Jack M. Foley

As for funding the project on an annual organizational budget of between $900,000 and $1 million, Kelly said it’s hoped that a fundraising and endowment campaign will be very successful. It is now in its initial “silent phase,” she said, with contacts being made with corporations, foundations and individuals.

“It’s doing very well,” Kelly said. “We are hoping to raise enough money to cover renovations and endowment to cover expenses.” She added, “We’d be looking for support from the community further down the road.”

Community support has been a big part of what Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School is all about; indeed, it’s mission statement specially speaks about “community engagement.”

Founded in 1961 as a small chamber music concert series, the organization just completed its 62nd summer concert series. It had expanded to year-round concerts in 1973. In 1990, a summer music education program called Next Generation debuted. That was the inspiration for the current music school, which began formally in 2011 and has grown steadily since because the demand is there, according to Kelly.

“We have seen just so much growth in the concert series and the school,” she said.

Right how, the school has 170 students and BCC hosts 40 concerts during the year.

And while it has always presented classical music and particularly chamber music, BCC has expanded into more genres in recent years and will continue to “offer a broader array” of music, Kelly said.

For example, the organization has presented jazz concerts and vocal performances and, for this Christmas, will present a gospel choir from Harlem in New York City, according to Kelly.

Still, “We try to stay committed to chamber music, it is the core of our offerings,” she said.

And what about the larger performances the can’t be accommodated in the new 100-seat concert hall? Well, those will continue to be staged at the historic Rockport Opera House, Kelly said.

Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School can be found online at baychamber.org.