Former Harkins theater is site for new MCC venue

Despite the stereotype of the academic world as an ivory tower where manual labor is studiously avoided, the shovels have been flying lately on the campus of Mesa Community College—the newest part of the campus, that is.

Dignitaries from the school, city government and the MCC community dug in the dirt Aug. 6 during groundbreaking ceremonies for the college’s new performing arts center, in what used to be the Harkins Fiesta 5 movie theater.

The observance, which appropriately featured entertainment from MCC’s music department, formally marked the kickoff of construction for the new center, scheduled to be completed and ready to host performances by 2014.

It’s the result of the allocations for new construction and remodeling and for technology and site improvements—more than $100 million, altogether—of a $951 million bond approved for the school by Mesa voters in 2004.

“There were some renovations that took place this summer at Theatre Outback,” says Rodney Holmes, dean of instruction for arts, humanities and social sciences.

Aside from this facelift for the existing performance venue on campus, the first phase of the new construction will include a new art gallery, designed by DWL Architects + Planners, Inc., whose previous projects for MCC include the Paul A. Elsner Library and the Life Science Building.

The gallery phase of the project is slated for completion by summer of next year.

The Performing Arts Center will take a bit longer. It’s an ambitious facility, especially by community college standards.

“We have several performance arts spaces at community colleges around the district, and they tend to seat around 290 to 300,” says Holmes.

“This is going to be 462 seats. The other unique part is that we’re connecting it to the Harkins space. We’re using the Harkins (theater) as support space, and building the theater box right next to it.”

The old Fiesta 5’s shell will be used for “…a band/meeting room, a choral room, a green room, a dressing room,” according to Holmes.

“What we’re doing is taking four of the five theaters and leveling the floor to repurpose them. The fifth is coming out, and it’s going to be the entryway.”

These facilities will link to the theater space itself, which, Holmes says, is a classic proscenium in design, though modern in architectural style. It will be used to stage musicals, dance and music recitals, and band and choral concerts—events which previously often required the rental of expensive and inconvenient performance spaces off-campus—while the rejuvenated Theatre Outback will continue to be utilized for the non-musical offerings of the Theater Department.

Jones Studios designed the new Performing Arts Center, with Layton Construction supervising the actual building—the same combo, Holmes notes, that built the performing arts center for South Mountain Community College.

“We reviewed 30 [architects’ proposals], interviewed about 10,” says Holems. “After that it’s just about a connection—who do you want to work with.”


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