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FMU breaks ground for the Performing Arts Center

FLORENCE – A host of dignitaries and speakers gathered on the 4.5 acres of land at the corner of Dargan and Palmetto streets to conduct the much anticipated ground breaking that officially recognizes the construction already underway of the new Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center.

Speakers included FMU President Fred Carter, Project Architect Malcolm Holzman of New York-based Holzman Moss Architecture, Dr. C. Edward Floyd of the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation, Chairman of the S.C. Senate Finance Committee Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. and Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela.

FMU President Fred Carter told attendees how the $32.8 million center will benefit the university and the surrounding community.

“This is a grand day for the university, the city of Florence and the Pee Dee region as we break ground for what will become the premier performing arts venue in the state,” said Carter.

Carter emphasized the university’s commitment to excellence in all of its teaching and research endeavors and reminded attendees that this facility will be “a place of learning first and foremost.”

The center will support the new bachelor’s degree in music industry. Currently being developed within this major are career paths in music publishing, marketing and management, product manufacturing and sales, recording, production, broadcast and music performance, composition and education.

The center encompasses a 900-seat multipurpose hall featuring adjustable acoustics and staging options to accommodate a broad scope of music programs from solo performances to 80-person orchestra ensembles. The incorporation of a fly tower and orchestra pit also allows for a full range of music, dance and drama productions. Representing one of the latest technological advancements in stage design, and topping the list of innovative performance staging solutions developed by Holzman Moss Architecture over the years, the center's most unique feature is a built-in, single-piece, push-button operated movable orchestra shell enclosure, which transforms the stage and fly-loft, from a tuned musical environment to an open and flexible stagehouse for theatrical events in minutes.

Marking a dramatic departure from the traditional use of a pre-fabricated orchestra shell in a proscenium framed stage tower, the customized, built-in Actuated Stage Shell (patent pending) incorporates the design and materials of the surrounding theater. Its intricately configured geometry extends into the interior of the room, enveloping both the stage and audience in a single cohesive enclosure. A hand-operated, motorized gantry crane transports the acoustical shell from storage to stage in less than five minutes significantly upgrading a process that normally requires a large crew and many hours to complete. A series of large roller wheels distribute the weight of the 20-ton shell in order for it to move easily along the surface of the stage floor. Adapted from an overhead bridge crane built for the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts in Amarillo, Texas, the refined floor-mounted system also allows for the maximum width desired for stage rigging and electronics so that when the shell is tucked away in its garage, the open stage and fly-loft can accommodate large theatrical touring shows. This highly efficient design decreases the complexity of the building’s overall superstructure and represents significant operations cost–savings.

Fronted by a two-story, 9,000-sq. ft. lobby, the center will contain a 100-seat black box theater, and an academic wing comprised of offices, classrooms and support spaces. The theater will serve as a flexible teaching space, a music rehearsal room, and as an experimental performance space. While featuring technical galleries and catwalks, the theater’s enlarged control room can also be used for instruction.

The academic teaching wing encompasses a large-scale rehearsal room and a computer lab, as well as medium- and small-sized practice rooms. The multi-level lobby is scaled to accommodate all types of community events, banquets and exhibitions, while the front lawn can be used for a variety of art exhibitions and festivals. Additional design amenities located on the 4.57-acre site and separately funded by the local community include an amphitheater, a sculpture court and a fountain. The 300-seat recessed amphitheater can be used for casual outdoor concerts, plays, and a host of community-wide events.

The center is one of two building projects that encompass a public-private, multi-partnership agreement that included land exchanges and financing involving the City of Florence, the State of South Carolina, McLeod Health, Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation, and Francis Marion University. It is part of an ongoing community-wide effort to transform downtown Florence into the cultural and economic center of the entire Pee Dee region. Once complete, both the land, currently owned by the city and the Performing Arts Center building will be deeded to FMU.

According to Carter, “This innovative partnership between FMU and various civic and community entities will meet the university’s growing programmatic needs by providing FMU with an opportunity to increase substantially its community presence in both academics and the performing arts. It will also serve as the principal performing arts venue for the northeastern region of South Carolina.”

Construction on the new center will take 22 months, with an expected completion date of fall 2010.

#101 / 1-30-09

Last Published: February 20, 2009 3:46 PM
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