CHEYENNE – Building a better foundation for fine arts education at Laramie County Community College started Friday with some ceremonial shovels of dirt.
LCCC broke ground on the renovation of its Fine Arts Building and construction of a new performing arts center during a slightly damp afternoon ceremony. The $14 million project is funded through a one-mill bond levy approved by voters last fall and will pay for renovation of one of the last remaining buildings from the college’s original campus.
The goal is to have the renovations completed by the start of fall classes in 2020 and the new performing arts center open sometime in October of that same year.
The project has been a long time coming, with it first being identified as a necessary capital improvement back in the 1990s. But renovating the Fine Arts Building isn’t just about upgrading wiring and dropping in a new HVAC system.
This renovation, along with the creation of a brand new 400-seat performing arts space, is about giving LCCC and its students a chance to explore their creativity in spaces specifically designed with them in mind.
Semple Brown Design, the Denver-based architects behind the project, have been in constant contact with LCCC’s Arts and
Humanities Department throughout this process. Those weekly conversations helped develop a design that will inspire students in the creative endeavors, said Jonathan Carrier, the dean of the department.
“We didn’t want just empty spaces for students to occupy and do art, theater and music. We wanted dedicated spaces where they can really flourish with what they’re doing – spaces that were developed specifically for them,” Carrier said. “That’s been the case all the way through the planning. These spaces are going to be dedicated to students in art, theater and music so they can develop those skills in a dedicated space, which we really haven’t had before.”
Those spaces will not only have the ability to attract more students from across the Front Range to LCCC to learn, it will also help attract new teaching talent. Having dedicated space designed specifically for the arts is something that shows LCCC’s dedication to this program, Carrier said.
Chris Wineman, the principal with Semple Brown, said the renovation is all about creating a home for the arts at LCCC. That means instead of classrooms that would work for a math or history class, these are specifically designed to be used as creative spaces for students and teachers to interact and create.
“This is not just generic classrooms. One of the challenges that we have is to take specialized programs that have been operating in very much classroom space and give them specifically what they need,” Wineman said. “It’s maker space. It’s got to be industrial in character. It’s got to be able to be dirty and be cleaned. It has to accommodate technology. It has to respond to the specialized acoustical needs of both theater and music. And those aren’t things that a regular classroom can do.”
The renovation will create spaces where art students can work with plenty of light, theater students can fully block stage productions and music students can practice in solitude without being intruded upon by outside noise.
Along with the new creative spaces, the 400-seat performing arts space will be a benefit to both the school and the community. Wineman said the design was created to complement both the existing LCCC Playhouse and other performance spaces throughout Cheyenne.
“Because they have the playhouse, which is a specific type of venue where intimacy and the audience can surround the performers, it was important to not just do a bigger version of that,” Wineman said. “It is a proscenium theater, so that’s what helps it work both for theater and for music. We’re trying to push the intimacy, with the rear half of the seating having a much steeper slope. Instead of a balcony, those folks still get a direct sight line to the stage, a feeling of closeness. And it gives the college flexibility with audience size.”
LCCC theater instructor Jason Pasqua said the LCCC Playhouse is a wonderful space that he truly loves. But having a bigger theater, with the technological capabilities that have been included by Semple Brown, will allow students to expand their horizons and make their vision for productions a reality, no matter how big or complicated.
“We’re talking about how physical space can expand the kinds of productions that are possible, both for our students and the community. And there’s a thing about simply having a home. And a home is where students can learn, can grow,” Pasqua said. “(The space) really simply allows for more possibility. And that’s what we are all about with the arts. It’s about possibilities. It’s about potential.”