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New performing arts center will be state of the art

By APRILL BRANDON
May 8, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.

Artist's rendering of the interior of the Fine Arts Center.

How big is it?

How does the new Victoria school district Fine Arts Center's size compare to other venues?

Faith Family Church: seats 2,350

New Victoria school district Fine Arts Center: seats 1,482

Victoria College Fine Arts Auditorium: seats 967

Leo J. Welder Center: seats 475

Victoria College Johnson Symposium: seats 194

Attending a school play or concert often consists of walking down a harshly-lit fluorescent hallway into a cafeteria or small auditorium, where you sit down on hard chairs and squirm.

Starting this fall, however, Victoria school district parents, students and community members will get a whole new experience, whether they are going to see a third-grade school play or watch a high school band perform.

The new Victoria school district Fine Arts Center is a $10 million, state-of-the-art, 40,375-square-foot facility. Scheduled to be completed between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, the building seats 1,482 people and is 70 feet tall.

Located on the Memorial High School senior campus as part of the Special Events Complex, the idea behind the design of the building was to give students the opportunity to perform in a theater that they would find in the real world, said Tracy Eich, design principal for SHW Group, the Houston design firm in charge of the project.

"There really wasn't a theme for this project other than the quality of experience. Usually when you go to a performance at a high school, it's in a cafeteria where the lighting is harsh and fluorescent. When we created the concept for the fine arts center, we wanted to simulate a real theater experience," he said. "There's a plaza that opens into a lobby. It's all about the quality of the finishing and the soft, dimming lights."

The backstage amenities are also different than what you'd find in a typical high school, added Jon Pippert, senior job captain of SHW Group.

"The technology in the back of the house are the level you'd find in a typical community theater. From a teaching perspective and for touring shows, all the technology and equipment that you would find in any other theater but generally not find in high schools are there," he said.

Already there are big plans for the use of the facility, said Jay Lester, Victoria school district fine arts director. Thanks to the size of the new building, the high schools will be able to put on large theatrical productions, such as musicals, as well as dance shows, districtwide concerts for bands and choirs and programs for entire elementary schools, he added. There is also the possibility of holding UIL competitions there in the future, as well as large meetings, in-service programs and possibly some of the smaller graduation ceremonies.

"I don't think a lot of the students and teachers involved in theater and music realize what's coming yet," Lester said. "I think they'll be pleasantly surprised. It's a great facility."

In addition to the district using the Fine Arts Center, Lester said that they are working on developing a contract and fee structure for organizations in the community to also be able to use it. Nothing is finalized yet and the ultimate use of the building will be for education purposes, however, he added.

Pippert added that the more community involvement there is with schools, the more successful a school is.

"This will be an effective way to engage the community. If a destination is special, more people are inclined to attend events," Pippert said. "Students will connect with the community through the fine arts."

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