It’s grand-opening celebration may have been delayed, but enthusiasm for Pasco-Hernando State College’s (PHSC) Instructional Performing Arts Center was riding high during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility.
The performing arts facility, at 8657 Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel, opened quietly in the summer of 2021.
It provides opportunities for students to prepare for careers in the performing and technical arts. It also offers a venue for performances and creates a new place for the community to enjoy the arts.
The center’s grand-opening celebration was held on Jan. 7 — belatedly because of COVID-19 concerns.
The event included a ribbon-cutting, a reception and tours of the facility.
It also featured remarks from numerous speakers, including Dr. Timothy Beard, president of Pasco-Hernando State College; Mike Moore, the District 2 representative on the Pasco County Commission; Cynthia Armstrong, chairwoman of the Pasco County School Board; Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent of Pasco County Schools; Dr. Kevin O’Farrell, provost at PHSC’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch; Celyse Dahdal, president of PHSC’s student government; and, Lauren Murray, executive director for the Instructional Performing Arts Center.
Bringing the project to fruition involved the efforts of many people.
Armstrong, however, singled out college leadership and the school district’s deputy superintendent Gadd for “thinking out of the box.”
Gadd was persistent in the pursuit of the project, she said, noting he wanted to know: “How can we make this a reality? How can we find a place to build it? How can we incorporate it into our school system?”
For his part, Gadd recalled the supersized role played by former Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford.
Gadd recalled: “Speaker Weatherford called me on the phone one day and he said, ‘Ray, we need some kind of performing art theater or arena in Pasco County. Can you help me out?’”
Gadd said he went about collecting floor plans from various performing arts venues and estimating costs.
He gave Weatherford a breakdown: “This is what we can get for $20 million. This is what we can get for $30 million, this is what we can get for $60 million…”
In the end, Pasco County Schools donated a 6-acre parcel to PHSC, on the campus shared by Cypress Creek High School and Cypress Creek Middle School.
And, the state college covered the cost of the $20 million project, and PHSC also is responsible for the facility’s operations.
Gadd praised Harvard Jolly and Creative Contractors for using their combined talents and expertise to create a facility that he calls “a beauty.”
“This is a jewel in this community,” Gadd said.
The deputy superintendent added: “This is an example of what happens when government works together.”
Armstrong told the crowd she toured the building last year and left feeling impressed.
The design is both creative and cost-efficient, she said.
“You walk into the classrooms, and you see how they convert into dance studios and music studios and bigger practice areas. It is just truly amazing that the students that go here can get all of their education, including their specialties, right in one building.
“And then, the theater itself is just amazing,” she said, referring to the 444-seat Weatherford Theater.
The facility not only enhances the school district’s performing arts programs, Armstrong said, but also gives students who are interested in those pursuits an opportunity to remain local, if they wish to continue their education in the arts.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore took a little trip down memory lane, as he addressed the crowd.
“This hits home with me because I was a communications major at Polk Community College, which is now Polk State College.
“I actually interned at a facility very similar to this. I spent my time learning how to work lighting, do the soundboard, being a stagehand and helping those performers behind the scenes.”
Saying there is no other facility like IPAC in the immediate area, Moore thanked area lawmakers for helping to secure the funding for the project.
Speakers from PHSC also shared their enthusiasm about the opportunities that IPAC presents.
The facility offers three Associate in Arts (AA) performing arts curriculum pathways for students who plan to transfer to a Florida public university to complete a bachelor’s degree in dance, theater or music.
It also offers an Associate in Science (AS) degree in digital media and multimedia technology with six college credit certificates.
The 36,000-square-foot facility includes a fully digital system, with the latest in lighting and sound support.
Freelance photographer Fred Bellet contributed to this report.
Published January 26, 2022