The Chipola College Center for the Arts moved one step closer to opening night Tuesday when the Chipola District Board of Trustees broke ground to begin construction of the $16 million project.
Chipola president Dr. Gene Prough, said, “The new center for the arts is the largest building project in the history of the college. This will be a showplace for the performing arts in the Panhandle. We want to thank Rep. Marti Coley and the rest of our legislative delegation for supporting this project for our students and community.”
The center is to be constructed on the college’s new access road, Prough Drive, just off River Forest Road.
According to Joan Stadsklev, Chipola Director of Fine and Performing Arts, the theatre within the center will seat around 650 with a balcony, and will include new dressing rooms, a scene shop and costume shop. An art gallery and reception area is planned, along with a small concession area. The most intriguing feature of the new complex is a “black box” theater especially for theater audiences of 100 or less.
“The public will enjoy the fine and performing artistic work of our students in theatre, music, and art in the new 650-seat proscenium theatre, black box theatre, recital hall, and art galleries. The space also will provide a strong artistic venue for the Chipola Artist Series and visiting art exhibits. Arts patrons will truly enjoy an aesthetically-pleasing and total artistic experience from the moment they enter the center grounds through the final curtain,” Stadsklev said.
Chipola Capital Projects and Contracts Administrator Louy Harris reported that the 56,000 square foot center has an estimated 600 days for completion. “This is what’s known as a ‘design-build’ project which brings an architect and contractor together to complete the project from conception to completion within the budget,” Harris said. The construction firm of Allstate/Southland of Tallahassee was selected as the Design/Build Team to provide design, permitting, and construction services for the two-year project.
Chipola Theater Director Charles Sirmon says, “This is the culmination of five years of planning and dreaming. The larger theater will enable us to stage big musicals and accommodate large crowds. The size of the theater will also enhance our educational theater outreach program so that more students will be able to enjoy theater. I’m very excited about the black box theater which will give students the opportunity to work on a smaller stage and produce their own work.”
Sirmon says the technical side of theater also will be greatly enhanced with state-of-the-art systems for rigging, hanging, lighting and set construction facilities.
The college enlisted the services of Theatre Consultant Robert Lorelli of New York, who has assisted with a number of major theatre design plans.
The new center will replace the current 350-seat theater which was constructed in 1958. The old theater is short on space and even shorter on restroom facilities. Set construction is now performed outside weather-permitting. Insufficient dressing room space and the absence of a costume shop are just some of the challenges in the current theater.
The Chipola Theater is a busy place with an estimated 10,000 visitors per year. In addition to three annual college theater productions, the theater also is home to four annual artist series events and other performances for thousands of area school children.