Long-awaited Plano ISD fine arts center takes shape

The Plano ISD Fine Arts Center is currently under construction along Alma Drive. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Plano ISD Fine Arts Center is currently under construction along Alma Drive. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Plano ISD Fine Arts Center is currently under construction along Alma Drive. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

For years, Plano students and artists have turned to neighboring cities to host their bigger productions because their own city lacked a venue of sufficient size.

All that will change with the opening of the new Plano ISD Fine Arts Center.

The $67.5 million facility is a dream several decades in the making, PISD Fine Arts Director Kathy Kuddes said.

“In the last 25 years,” Kuddes said, “there have been several conversations about locations and a facility that would meet this need, either built by the city or in a partnership with the district or in a partnership with several cities, ... and none of them have come to fruition.”

The 85,000 square-foot building along Alma Drive is engineered to support each facet of the district’s fine arts programs. The main theater is designed to hold 1,700 people. Other unique spaces include an art gallery, a dance rehearsal space and a studio theater, Kuddes said.

The center was approved as part of PISD’s $481 million 2016 bond referendum and was originally expected to be built by late 2019. A number of factors, including permits and weather, pushed the start of construction to April 2019, PISD Chief Financial Officer Randy McDowell said.

The project is now expected to be completed in early 2021.

Supporting the district

Plano ISD currently has four high school auditoriums; each of them can seat 700 people or fewer, and all are used on a regular basis, Kuddes said.

The district also rents roughly 40 venues each school year for combined or large-scale performances. Kuddes and her staff estimated that aside from district funds, those rentals require about $50,000 in fundraising each year.

“If we had another place that they could access freely, that money could be spent for other things within the program, could provide other kinds of support or could just lower the magnitude of what parent groups were trying to raise,” Kuddes said.

Having a district facility will also provide relief from campus disruption during special events, such as University Interscholastic League competitions, said PISD Superintendent Sara Bonser, who has experience serving on an executive committee for UIL.

This space also opens new doors for hosting regional events, she said, and enhances students’ experiences with the arts, regardless of their inclusion in a fine arts class.

As the district moves closer to the opening date, Kuddes is focused on finding two full-time staffers to handle the center’s daily operations and drafting the calendar and the policies for scheduling events.

There will be a hierarchy for event scheduling, Kuddes said, with the No. 1 priority being school performances, but there will also be dates for local arts groups to rent the facility.

“It’s important for us to say, ‘Yes, we’re building this facility for the school district and for the students,’ but we are also really excited about the possibility of partnering with arts organizations in the city,” Kuddes said. “We don’t want this building to sit empty. That’s not why we built it.”

Arts in the city

The district already has working relationships with some Plano arts groups, including the Plano Symphony Orchestra. Robert Reed, the symphony’s executive director, said the symphony expects to have some of their educational programming take place at the new center and is interested in possibly having other performances there.

The Plano Symphony is a recipient of Plano Arts & Events grants, recipients of which are required to meet two or more of the following criteria: have a principal office, facility, or location where practice, rehearsals, performances or exhibitions regularly take place in Plano; perform or operate at least two-thirds of events, programs, or performances within the city; and promote the city in namesake or initiatives.

Because there is no venue in Plano large enough for the symphony’s performances, the city has been understanding of their need to hold concerts at non-Plano locations, such as Richardson’s Eisemann Center, Reed said.Cindi Lawrence Hanson, owner of the Plano Metropolitan Ballet and its dance school, Gotta Dance, said she regularly uses Plano spaces, such as the Courtyard Theater and PISD performance halls, but often faces challenges with availability.

The Plano Metropolitan Ballet is also a recipient of a Plano Arts & Events grant and has been encouraged to use Plano facilities, she said.

As the district’s facility reaches completion, Lawrence Hanson said she sees it as an opportunity for Plano to use it as a stepping stone for more arts spaces in the future.

“I think it’ll start off slow,” Lawrence Hanson said. “And then, as we max out the usage between the school district and the arts groups for overflow, I think that’s when there will be more interest in looking at ways to support and create yet another arts venue.”

A new sound and space

As construction continues on the PISD Fine Arts Center, the No. 1 threat to its construction deadline is weather, said Zach Snavely, project manager with McCarthy Building Companies. This is largely due to the main structure being built with architectural concrete.

Concrete gives the building long-term sturdiness but requires more pre-planning and can lead to delays, Snavely said. Large metal braces have to hold the walls in place until a roof is put on, which blocks construction in certain areas. In addition, Snavely, said, architectural concrete cannot be poured when it rains.

The use of concrete is expected to make a big difference in the sound of the main performance hall.Forty-by-forty-foot panels of concrete with unique angles and textures line the walls of the hall. These were specially designed by an acoustics expert to work well with a variety of ensembles and sounds, Kuddes said.

“We don’t typically spend that kind of money on some of our school performance venues,” Kuddes said. “That was a big additional cost to this space, but to be on par with the Eisemann Center... we felt like it was really necessary to have a professional acoustical firm working on the design.”

Once the structure is fully built-out in late summer, Snavely said he expects the rest of the project will move quickly.
By Liesbeth Powers
Liesbeth graduated from Baylor University with a degree in new media journalism in December 2018. She gained her newspaper experience as a staff writer and multimedia editor at her campus paper, The Baylor Lariat. Liesbeth joined the Community Impact team in August 2019, where she reports on all things Plano and Richardson, including Plano City Council and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.


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