FACE LIFT | News, Sports, Work

FACE LIFT |  News, Sports, Work

-Image courtesy of OPN Architects

This is the final version of the design for the south entrance to the Iowa Central Center for the Performing Arts. The exterior wall on the southeast corner will have space for potential public art, College President Jesse Ulrich said.

This spring marked the final curtain call for Iowa Central Community College’s Decker Auditorium.

The 50-year-old building will undergo a complete renovation, along with the construction of a new Center for the Performing Arts.

The college’s Board of Trustees approved a bid from Sioux City-based Klinger Construction for $11,907,000 during a July 25 special meeting. On Tuesday, the board will formally approve the contract with Klinger.

Jensen Builders Ltd., of Fort Dodge, also submitted a bid for the project at $12,200,000. The project was designed by Des Moines architecture firm OPN Architects.

The need for updates to the auditorium has been evident for many years, Dr. Jesse Ulrich, Iowa Central president, said. It was part of the 2018 bond referendum with $3 million earmarked for the project.

-Image courtesy of OPN Architects

This is the final version of the design of the renovation to Decker Auditorium on Iowa Central’s campus.

“And what it’s going to cover is very minimal in relation to some of the improvements that were needed,” said Mary Ludwig, executive director of development and alumni. “After additional feedback from the community, we realized that Decker Auditorium needs much more to bring it to where it should be to best serve our community and the students.”

At that time, the priority was the new Greehey Family Student Success Center, an $8.6 million project to be completed in 2020.

“The additional time has allowed us to take a holistic approach to everything we offer in that space and the reality is that the space doesn’t do justice to what our students need when they come here to have that student experience in the executive not seeking arts,” Ulrich added.

When the auditorium was first designed and built in the mid-1970s, it was designed to be a lecture hall. Today, it is used for Iowa Central’s band, choir and theater programs, as well as dance team performances and more.

Many community organizations and clubs use the auditorium space throughout the year, including high schools, dance studios, politicians, civic groups, theater and music groups. But there were times when the college had to turn them away because the sets for the musicals and plays were built in the middle of the stage.

“We’ve had to close the auditorium to outside organizations months before a performance because we don’t have a side area to build sets in,” Ulrich said.

In addition to the complete renovation of the auditorium with new seating, new lighting and a new sound system, this project will also build a Performing Arts Center, extending the building to the south. The center will have a new band room, theater room, expanded classroom spaces, a kit shop and additional bathrooms. The entire space, including the auditorium, will be fully ADA accessible, something the current auditorium is not. ADA seating will be added, and there will be ramp access to the stage. Currently, the stage is only accessible by stairs.

Installing an elevator will also add ADA accessibility to the second floor and balcony of the auditorium.

“People who have trouble with stairs can never sit in what I call premium seats in those first few rows on the balcony and have that great view,” Ludwig said.

“We really thought about it through different lenses about the little things we could do to make it a better experience,” Ulrich added.

The auditorium has been a second home for many Iowa Central performing arts students over the years, said Theresa Jackson, director of theater and professor of communication.

“When I sit in this space, I hear echoes of laughter and I see the footprints of thousands of student artists,” she said. “Yet we are in a danger zone. We have so much to fix right now. We can have great artists here, but their advanced people take one look at the facility and turn us down.”

The auditorium itself will still have around 1,100 seats, but one major change is that the band pit area in the new design can also be filled with seats when a band pit is not needed.

During construction, Iowa Central will continue to host fine arts performances with orchestra, choir and theater — they just might look a little different and be in a different space.

“Our team is very good at knowing how to find Plan B, just like we did during COVID,” Ludwig said.

The Iowa Central Community College Foundation is preparing to launch a capital campaign to raise a large portion of the nearly $12 million project cost.

“We have wonderful generous people in our service region who care about the fine arts and care about the student experience and taking advantage of this space,” Ulrich said. “It’s an opportunity for them to really invest in it.”

Iowa Central’s facility is the largest performance venue in the college’s service region, Ludwig said. With the renovation and new construction, it has the potential to bring in visitors from all over northwest and north central Iowa.

Once the contract with Klinger is signed Tuesday, Ulrich said he expects construction to begin immediately. The project is expected to last approximately 18 months.

“This is probably the biggest project that Iowa Central has really taken on in the last 20 years,” Ulrich said. “This is the most public building we have on campus. It’s really, really important for us to get it right and it’s something that people will be proud of.”

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