FARMINGTON — Where some people may see a simple concrete slab at a construction site, Jayne Decker envisions a stage for Shakespeare dramas and string quartets.

As director of the new Emery Community Arts Center, under construction on the University of Maine at Farmington campus, she has been dreaming up all sorts of new performances and art exhibits while waiting for the $5 million facility to open in September.

Decker’s vision of the concrete stage came during her first glimpse of the building’s entranceway, where she started a tour Tuesday for members of the media.

A smooth white concrete entrance highlights the building’s northern white cedar facade, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Small specks of grass are already poking through a square patch of dirt where a front lawn will grow between three other older stone and brick buildings, some built more than a century ago.

“I can’t be out here without thinking outdoor performances,” Decker said, describing the entrance as the college’s new arts quad on campus.

“It’s that mix of the old and the new that inspires,” she said.

The quad is nestled between brick Merrill Hall — home to Nordica Auditorium — and the college’s Alumni Theater off Academy Street. Farmington Public Library, with its gray stone walls, is the other backdrop for the quad, leading to the downtown streets.

Hosting summer theater groups and spring concerts in the quad fits in with Decker’s plans for the center, which features a variety of flexible space that can be adapted for unique performances and exhibits, she said.

To escape the hum of saws and whirring fans, Decker opened the doors to the art gallery, with its wood floors, white walls and high ceilings crisscrossed by track lighting and beams to hang art and hold projectors.

While the space, with ceilings that are more than 17 feet high, will host traditional paintings and sculptures, it also has hidden wiring to showcase contemporary art, from digital displays to sound and video exhibits, she said.

From the gallery, a series of ramps and staircases lead visitors through large, open corridors leading to the performance space. Amid more white cedar planks lining the walls, sections of red bricks frame giant white walls along the corridors, where more art will be displayed.

An opening ceremony planned for Sept. 7 will feature work by Maine artists to highlight the center’s goal of becoming a cultural center for the entire area, according to Decker.

“When Emery opens you’ll see the community represented here,” she said, referring to both the art and patrons.

Decker hopes the center’s unique performance space will also draw more people to Farmington, benefiting both the local cultural scene and the community, she said.

The 2,500-square-foot space has room for 160 seats, featuring a giant retractable airplane-hangar door that can open to the outside. There is also a steel catwalk ringing the room that adds to the range of performances that can be hosted, by rearranging everything from seating to where performers take the stage, according to Stan Spilecki, technical director for the center and Alumni Theater.

College students will also get a chance to work with state-of-the-art equipment, controlling the room’s sound, lights and other features, he said.

The hangar doors will open onto a lawn where the audience can bring blankets, chairs and maybe picnic baskets for concerts, plays and other shows, Decker said.

A $5 million gift to UMF from an anonymous benefactor paid for most of the project, with some other donations being added to the total cost slightly above that amount.

The center is named in honor of Ted and Marguerite Emery, arts enthusiasts and longtime Farmington residents, and was designed by DesignLAB architects of Boston.

The goal is to build on Farmington’s role as a cultural center for western Maine, with its history of local artists performing in town and on the UMF campus, according to Decker.

Even the college’s Nordica Auditorium is named after Farmington native Lillian Nordica, who went on to become a world-renowned opera singer and returned to her hometown to put on concerts a century ago.

The center will complement that tradition by giving even more options to support the arts, Decker said.

“This is truly going to be a community arts center,” she said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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