Michael Sloan’s history with the Thorne Building is a very personal one. His great-great-grandfather, William Thorne, was one of the original donors who helped to make the iconic 1895 structure possible; his mother was a student there, and can recall taking a home economics class, complete with sewing machines, on the third floor; and he himself remembers attending a variety of special events in the building over the years. So there is something especially appropriate about the selection of Sloan and his team at Sloan Architects, P.C. as the architectural firm for the proposed revitalization of the Thorne Building into a Community Center serving the Village of Millbrook, the Town of Washington and the surrounding area.
If Sloan’s Millbrook roots run deep, so too does the list of clients his firm has served regionally since its establishment in 1997. That roster encompasses renowned centers of higher education such as Yale University, SUNY Oneonta and Vassar College, as well as such key local institutions as Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, and Millbrook Golf and Tennis. “The Thorne Building is perfect for us,” says Sloan, “because we do a lot of overall-building approaches, and we are quite experienced at retrofitting buildings to modern conveniences and technologies.”
Sloan calls himself “passionate” about the building: “I have always viewed the Thorne Building as one of the village’s anchors. The Thorne Building and the Tribute Garden are two great public resources that serve as bookends at either end of Millbrook, with the business district along Franklin Avenue as the backbone. It’s so important that the building remains community-based, and that it benefits the whole village.”
When the Board of the non-profit Thorne Building Community Center put out a request for proposals last summer, Sloan and his team were ready to respond, with a flexible design that included, for example, two possible approaches for creating a theater space (something Sloan’s firm has done elsewhere): a true performing arts theater with tiered seating, designed acoustics, viewing angles and a deeper stage; or a multipurpose room with removable banquet tables and partitions; or, as space may allow on the first and second floors, both.
A strong proponent of natural light, Sloan sees a basement floor that is in fact half out of the ground and features plenty of windows as a considerable asset – a potential setting for arts classrooms, music studios, teaching kitchens, after-school programs, and theater classes. At the other end of the building, a round pyramid skylight in the roof and a circular hole cut in the floor beneath it creates the potential for “a cylinder of light illuminating, glowing through the center of building.”
Outside, he envisions “a Beaux-Arts garden centered between the building and the sidewalk on Franklin Avenue. The width of the whole building is exactly equal to the distance from sidewalk. That’s not a coincidence. That’s a symmetrical classical design. We’re taking our clues from the site.”
As plans for the Community Center continue to progress, the possibility of making adjustments as needed could inevitably arise. But in the meantime, says Oakleigh Thorne, Chairman of the Board of The Thorne Building Community Center, “The selection of Sloan Architects marks a major step forward for this important project. We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with such a talented firm, and with an architect as imaginative and as sensitive to the needs of the village as Michael Sloan.”