SFCC plans $32 million fine arts building

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 31, 2007 at 11:56 p.m.

Santa Fe Community College's fine arts facilities have been less than adequate for far too long.

President Jackson Sasser says the auditorium is worse than a middle school performance space. Dance department chair Alora Haynes likened it to a garage.

But the deplorable performance conditions at SFCC are scheduled to change in the coming years as the college moves ahead with plans to build a grandiose fine arts building that Haynes said should be dubbed "The Miracle on 83rd Street."

"I keep saying, 'Just pinch me when we get this thing started,' " she said.

The $32 million facility will be around 100,000 square feet and will include a performance hall with up to 1,500 seats, as well as a 99-seat performance hall, a three-story black box theater and numerous classrooms and practice rooms for the various visual and performing arts departments.

The building will take up space that is now a parking lot near the SFCC administration building. The new facility's steps will essentially double as seats for an outdoor amphitheater and will lead down to the sinkhole area at SFCC.

The building is planned to be a "green building" that will utilize natural lighting, water collection and other energy-efficient practices. Native limestone, or churt rock, will adorn the exterior of the building.

Beyond the main performance spaces, the building also will have a large lobby down the middle that will be designed as a Grand Gallery where students and faculty can display art. Outdoor terraces on either end of the gallery also will serve as areas where events could be held.

"This is truly a multifunctional facility," said Chuck Clemons, vice president for endowment at SFCC.

Clemons has a tough job ahead of him in the coming months as he steers the fundraising effort that hopes to raise another $8 million - which will be added to the $16 million they have already saved through donations and bonds - by January in order to get matching funds from the state. If the fundraising goes as planned, Clemons said the timeline for the building will proceed as follows: the college will choose an architectural firm in December, a construction manager will be chosen in August 2008, the final architectural plans should be complete by September 2008, construction will begin in January 2009 and the finished product should be ready in January 2010.

Clemons said the college is seeking donors to help them reach their fundraising goal, and since the building does not yet have an official name, big-money donors could even see their name emblazoned on a part of the building.

"In this initial planning stage, there are significant naming opportunities available," he said.

In the planning stages, the college has worked with the Jay Reeves architectural firm to get a conceptual plan for the facility, and Clemons said he hopes the end product will be as close to Reeves' original concept as possible.

"This will be a signature facility for the campus," Clemons said.

Haynes said she has been begging for a new facility for the fine arts department since Sasser became president five years ago, and she said she is in debt to the president's willingness to hear her cries.

"I've never been more grateful to two individuals than I am to Jackson Sasser and Chuck Clemons," she said.

"I see what they're doing and I know it's not easy, and I'm trying to do what I can from my end."

Haynes could not say enough about the difference the new facility will make for the approximately 2,500 fine arts students, as well as numerous faculty members, who are now being shuffled into classes at odd hours in order to share the limited classroom space and who aren't even able to put on performances at their school because the auditorium is so inadequate.

"If we do a one-night show, we have 1,500 in the audience, and we can't do that in a 300-seat theater," she said, adding that even if they could pare down the audience, the stage in the current auditorium is dangerously small and can't be used for dance performances.

"The theater productions are limited, too, where they can only have six or seven or eight people in them," she said.

Haynes said she is just so excited at the prospect of being able to do away with the 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. dance classes that now have to be scheduled because the faculty have to share just a few classrooms.

"For me to be able to tell the faculty that they can finish their day somewhere near 5 p.m., that would be amazing," Haynes said. "They work into the night all the time. The puzzle of putting a schedule together is quite a phenomenon."

Clemons said the fundraising effort is the driving force that administrators are focusing on right now, but he said the entire school is thrilled at the prospect of the state-of-the-art instructional and performance facility.

"In order for our students to achieve world-class status, new facilities are needed," he said. "This teaching facility will foster visual and performing arts achievement at the highest levels."

Alice Wallace can be reached at 352-338-3109 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com.

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