By Steve Holt, Copy Editor
The addition of black metal letters marked the final touch to one of the university’s biggest and most publicized construction efforts. “Williams Performing Arts Center,” they read.
The signage served as a welcome to students and faculty Monday as classes and practices officially began in the new building, but the building’s official dedication will take place Saturday.
The campus has never seen a building like the J. McDonald Williams Performing Arts Center and perhaps has not needed one more. The 92,000-square-foot center, which is said to be one of the top performance venues among colleges and universities in the Southwest, will house both the Departments of Music and Theatre. Both departments had been cramped for space and money for many years before.
“It was all kind of like waking up on Christmas morning,” said Ginger Morby, junior theatre ministry major from Houston, about the first week in Williams. “The professors were still getting used to the building and we have been finding new and exciting things every day.”
Adam Hester, chair of the Theatre Department, said excitement comes from having access to theatre classrooms for the first time ever and sharing the space with another program.
“The atmosphere was really electric as we got to teach in the spaces,” Hester said. “It’s been a great thing to be so close and rubbing elbows with people in the Music Department.”
Though the building process took longer than expected and the opening was delayed from the original October target date, Hester said the process has been worth it.
“It’s been an exciting process; it’s been a long process,” Hester said. “The administration has been wonderful keeping us in the loop and checking on our needs in the design process. We’ve been in this from the beginning.”
Dr. Paul Piersall, chair of the Department of Music, said his department’s arrival into the center is more than exciting and that working out the kinks is just part of the process.
“We are all elated,” Piersall said. “Any new building will have a lot of little things to work out, but this facility is fantastic and we are delighted to be in it.”
Both the Music and Theatre departments will benefit from the 325-seat Lewis and Jerry Fulks Theatre, the 282-seat Recital Hall and the Clara and James Culp Theatre. Instrument and choral rehearsal halls, music labs, practice rooms and studios, dressing and laundry rooms, classrooms, choral and band libraries and faculty offices and meeting rooms also grace the Williams Center.
Piersall said the building means two main things to the Music Department.
“First, it shows to the constituency and public that ACU is integrated in the arts,” Piersall said. “No. 2, having a state-of-the-art facility will help us in recruiting students.”
He said the building’s most impressive feature in his opinion is the north end of the building, which houses the Recital Hall and Fulks Theatre.
“The Recital Hall came out just as I envisioned it,” Piersall said. “It can be tuned to soloist and piano performances, so it is a hall that can be tuned to many different music styles.”
Denyce Graves, a world-renowned operatic singer, will perform the hall’s inaugural concert on Jan. 21.
A grand opening dedication will take place Saturday, with ceremonies to dedicate the 28 dedicated rooms, theatres and offices. A ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the center will include the building’s primary benefactors, J. McDonald Williams and Judith Alguire Williams.
Both “Don” and Judith graduated from ACU in 1963, and gave $10 million of the $14 million cost of the building. Don has been a supporter of ACU and a trustee for many years, and was named Outstanding Alumnus of the Year in 1986.
The architectural firm that laid the plans for the Williams Center was The Tittle Luther Partnership of Abilene with Keating/Khang Architects of Santa Monica, Calif., consulting in the design process. Hill & Wilkinson of Plano completed the construction on the building.
Brian David, music major from Georgetown, says the only setback to the Williams Center’s completion is its timing-his being a senior.
“I would prefer to have had it for more years and get more use out of it,” David said. “But I’m glad the younger students get to use and enjoy it.”