Plano ISD's fine arts center to serve as 'home' for students, community

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Performing means happiness to Abbie Walker, a Hendrick Middle School eighth grader who aspires to one day be either a theater teacher or a Broadway performer. The Plano ISD middle schooler is helping choreograph an upcoming performance of “The Wizard of Oz.” She will also play the role of The Scarecrow.

She has not yet had a chance to see the district’s new Robbie & Lynore Robinson Fine Arts Center in person. However, Abbie said she is looking forward to the opportunity to perform in the center’s many spaces.

“[Fine arts are] something that we can all enjoy together,” Abbie said.

That sense of togetherness is an important part of why district leaders wanted to construct the 82,200-square-foot fine arts center, according to Missy Bender, president-elect of the PISD Education Foundation board. The foundation launched an endowment campaign in May with the goal of making an annual contribution of $150,000 to help pay for the center’s operating costs.

“In Plano, we have valued providing many different opportunities for [students] to find their home, and one of those places is the fine arts,” said Bender, who was a member of the PISD board of trustees when the center was approved. “If [students] find their home in the visual or performing arts, they can also have a home here where they can celebrate that with the community.”

The $67.5 million facility is expected to open later this year, according to Superintendent Sara Bonser. Its venues include the 1,502-seat Main Stage Auditorium, the black box-style Studio Theater, the Dance/Rehearsal Studio, an outdoor Performance Lawn and the Legacy Gallery art showroom.

Building the center

The fine arts center was approved as part of PISD’s $481 million bond referendum in 2016.

It was originally expected to be built at 1800 Alma Drive by late 2019, but weather-related issues delayed the start of construction until April of that year. Inclement weather and pandemic-related complications delayed a previously planned opening for earlier this year, Bonser said.

The facility will be a place for the district’s nearly 23,000 fine arts students in seventh to 12th grades to celebrate their passions, she said.

“We are known for the quality of our arts programs—fine arts [and] performing arts—and our kids are excellent,” Bonser said. “They aspire [to] and achieve excellence in the arts, and to have a facility that matches their level of commitment to the arts is absolutely the right thing for this community.”

PISD Director of Fine Arts Kathy Kuddes said the center is essentially four separate buildings that were built inside a large building.

“They’re on separate slabs so that acoustical noise doesn’t travel from one space to the other,” she said.

The facility will be open for hundreds of performance dates each year. Events hosted at the center will include University Interscholastic League music and theater competitions, concerts, senior high school musicals and shows from outside arts groups, according to district staff.

“We have very few dates open [for next year],” said Weston Keifer, technical manager for the fine arts center. “Basically, we’re booking up to July of 2022 in order to accommodate standing PISD events as well as fine arts events for the school year.”

Performance opportunities

The center’s Main Stage Auditorium will be the largest venue in the district. It will host shows from all grade levels, district staff said.

“We know [that] everybody’s going to want to use this [stage], but it’s going to be very precious,” said Jamee Jolly, senior executive director of the PISD Education Foundation. “So we’ve actually got other spaces [that students] can rehearse in, practice in and perform in throughout the building.”

Moving high school performances into the new facility will open existing venues to middle and elementary school students, district staff said.

One community group that has plans to use the center is the Plano Symphony Orchestra, which is scheduled to play two shows there Dec. 19.

“It’s a shame that we don’t [currently] get to perform in Plano that often,” Executive Director Robert A. Reed said, noting many of the orchestra’s shows are held at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. “We definitely want to have a presence [at the fine arts center] on a yearly basis, [though] to what degree the presence is really [is] yet to be determined.”

The amount of performances put on by the district could limit the center’s availability for arts groups such as the symphony, Reed said. But Kuddes said the public will always be welcome.

“We want them here every time the doors are open,” Kuddes said. “[District] performances are already ... open to the public. They’ll just be here in a different locale.”

Running the facility

The fine arts center was named in honor of the late Robbie and Lynore Robinson, who Reed said were longtime champions of the arts in Plano.

“Robbie was a driving force of getting a performing arts center here in Plano,” Reed said. “We’re thrilled that even though he is now not with us that he will always have his name attached to a performing arts center here in Plano.”

In addition to performances the facility will host, the district plans to start a training program for students interested in the technical aspects of putting on a show.

“We’re hoping to use some of [the district’s students] as our crew for some of these outside shows as well as helping out with the other PISD events that might not come with their own crew,” Keifer said.

Not including personnel costs, the district’s budget for fine arts programming is around $1.8 million this year. The anticipated opening of the fine arts center this year did not change the district’s budget. However, the center’s programming costs will be taken into consideration for future budget cycles, according to staff.

Operating costs at the center are expected to be between $400,000-$500,000 per year for the district, Kuddes said.
By William C. Wadsack

Senior Reporter, Plano/Richardson

William joined Community Impact Newspaper in December 2019. He previously served as managing editor of several daily and weekly publications in North Texas and his native state of Louisiana.


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