New Westbury HS fine arts wing ‘ups the ante’ for magnet program

When Nathaniel Melvin began teaching art at Westbury High School, he was assigned a classroom with no sink. For someone who specializes in building large sculptures and technical art pieces, that was an issue.

He installed one, but even then, the classroom never quite functioned the way he needed it to. There wasn’t enough cabinetry to hold supplies.

Melvin now teaches in a “visual arts studio” specifically designed to meet his students’ needs. Ample power is available via ceiling cables at each art table. There is plenty of built-in storage space. Most importantly — there is not one, but three sinks.

The room even connects with an outdoor patio that will soon boast a kiln oven.  

“Walking in here the very first day and just seeing the electrical cords I was like ‘yeah, this is exactly what I wanted,’” Melvin said.

The new visual arts studio is part of Westbury High School’s 2012 Bond realignment project, which used reassigned funds to build a new $6.2 million fine arts wing and renovate the magnet school’s existing fine arts rooms built in 1961.

Most of the fine arts wing was completed earlier this year, with students occupying the new spaces in October. The wing features new band, orchestra, and choir halls with individual practice rooms, as well as a piano lab, jazz ensemble and guitar lab, and an instrument repair room.

Other additions include a new speech and debate room, dance studio with locker rooms, and upgrades to the existing black box theater.

The pandemic has put limitations on how some of the spaces can be used for now, and some spaces are still a work in progress. But Westbury’s magnet coordinator Natalie Fischer said she’s happy with the new opportunities they will provide students.

“It’s upped the ante of our magnet program,” Fischer said. “It’s expanded what students have access to and the seriousness of it. It’s going to open up doors that weren’t there before.”

Closing out the project is the school’s 59-year-old auditorium. Installation of a new sound system is near completion, with new house lighting, cushioned seating, carpet, and blue and gray paint that reflects school pride already on display.

Though the auditorium is renovated, Principal Jerri Nixon said the full effect won’t be felt until physical distancing restrictions are lifted.

“When we’re able to fill the space with sound, students, and performance, that’s when it’s going to seem real,” Nixon said.