Austin ISD celebrates construction on districtwide performing arts center

Breaking ground on Austin ISD's districtwide performing arts center signals the beginning of a new era, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said Aug. 6 at a ceremony and all-city band performance to celebrate the project.

"This facility is a symbol of our vision for the future of fine arts in AISD," she said. "We're going to shift away from that culture of high-stakes testing and focus on the whole child to ensure that our students come out well-balanced and prepared for life and college and careers."

Construction has already begun on the 68,000-square-foot building, which will house a 1,200-seat auditorium, a 250-seat black-box theater, sound and lighting demonstration classrooms and a recording studio for student use, among other amenities. It is slated to open during the 2014–15 school year, according to Vincent Torres, president of the AISD board of trustees.

"Today we get to see real progress is being made on our bond and evidence that AISD is keeping its promise to voters that twice—not once, but twice, in 2004 and 2008—approved bond funding for purchase of land and construction on a districtwide performing arts center," Torres said, adding: "This is a long-awaited and momentous occasion."

In 104-degree heat, AISD students in the band, color guard and Anderson High School drill team performed at the Browning Airport Hangar.

Color guard member Charity Copeland, a sophomore visual arts major at McCallum High School, said she is excited about the prospect of being able to use the new building.

"It looks like a gorgeous theater," she said.

Renderings displayed at the celebration show the auditorium lit up against a night sky, students playing their instruments in a lobby area and families walking outside the building through a plaza with green space.

Charity's sister Tabitha is also a visual arts major and plans to graduate from McCallum in 2015. She said she looks forward to seeing the art gallery, where she hopes to display her own sculptures.

"I might just get the one year, but that'll be OK," she said, adding she is particularly glad the center features options for students who are not musicians. "I feel like there's an over-emphasis of music and that our culture needs to embrace the other areas of the arts, like theater and poetry, the visual arts, you name it."

Director of Fine Arts Greg Goodman, who has worked on the center for five years, said it will include a dedicated dance space, art gallery, library, dressing rooms and theater rehearsal space.

"The research is crystal clear that by giving our students these kinds of opportunities, that they will not only benefit from the intrinsic value of the arts, but it is [also] a great way to connect to their cultural heritage," Carstarphen said, adding it increases their chances of graduating on time.

The district paid about $4 million for the 4.46-acre site in the Mueller development. The construction budget for the building and 400-space parking garage including design costs, permits and fees is $36 million, according to AISD documents. Construction will be funded by the 2008 bond.

AISD parent Debbie Sorrells said she hopes her high school sophomore will see the benefits of the new center.

"The kids need a good place to be able to perform. We don't have that in AISD," she said.

Pfluger Associates Architects and American Constructors are building the center, which will be located at 1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd. when it opens in January 2015. More information is available at www.austinisd.org.