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— With a thunderstorm looming nearby, a group gathered inside Thursday afternoon on the campus of John Brown University for a ceremonial groundbreaking.

The celebration heralded a year-long project that will produce the new 28,000-square-foot Bill and Donna Berry Performing Arts Center.

Instead of meeting on the actual construction site, celebration attendees were redirected to Kresege Dining Hall to celebrate the construction of the new facility.

“They say at a wedding that it means good luck, so I think that it’s a good thing that it’s raining today,” said Steve Beers, vice president for student development, while addressing the attendees.

Golden spades were held by JBU President Chip Pollard, Bill and Donna Berry of Pampa, Texas, school officials and members of the university’s board of trustees. In lieu of engaging in the traditional first dig into the ground, participants hovered their shovels above the cafeteria’s new linoleum floor.

In corroboration with architect Crafton, Tull, Sparks and Associates, Inc., Nabholz Construction began work on the site of the new facility at the end of July.

The new facility, expected to cost approximately $7 million, will serve as an epicenter for campus activity. It is intended to host activities such as JBU theater productions, speakers, meetings, music recitals, performances, small chapel programs and other campus events.

“I’m so excited that we’re going to have a building that can actually handle what we do here at JBU,” said Steffi Thomas, a university junior majoring in music and child and family studies. “We have a lot of talent in the department and sometimes I think that the facilities are stretched and can’t handle us.”

The majority of performing arts related activities are currently held in Jones RecitalHall or Cathedral of the Ozarks. The hall, which seats a maximum of 100 people, is too small for many activities. With an occupancy of 948 people, the cathedral is on the opposite end of the spectrum and generally too large for activities.

Scheduled to be completed in August 2010, the site is located west of the Mabee/Chapman parking lot on campus.

On Aug.18, 2008 JBU announced in a press release that JBU alumni Bill and Donna Berry made a lead gift of $5 million toward the construction of the new 500-seat auditorium and performing arts center.

“It was the fall of 2007 when I first approached the board and got the go-ahead to begin to try to move this project along,” Pollard said. “Six months later, Bill Berry offered to ‘get things started’ with a $5 million lead gift.”

A favorable construction bidding market allowed the university to add an extra wing to the building’s plans. The square footage, originally expected to be around 23,950 square feet, was upped by more than 4,000 square feet.

“When we received the bids from Nabholz last month, we were very happy to be able to add the wing,” Pollard said during his speech Thursday. “Lord willing, a year from now we hope to ask all of you to come back for the dedication.”

Shaking hands with students, faculty, board members and community leaders, Donna Berry said that the couple is happy that the performing arts center will soon be a reality on campus, though she’s not usually one to enjoy people fussing over her.

“This is where I went to college and graduated in 1956,” Bill Berry said. “I grew to appreciate the arts but it wasn’t that way for me at the start. It’s a culmination of many things in my life. When we became aware that there was a need, it was natural to offer.”

The rest of the funds for the facility are expected to come from a matching grant given by The J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation and the Chapman Trust, Pollard said.

Sports, Pages 9 on 10/07/2009

Print Headline: Groundbreaking held at JBU campus for new performing arts center

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