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Millikin University Center for Theatre and Dance

This artist's rendering provided by Millikin University shows the school's planned new Center for Theatre and Dance, which officials said would break ground next year. 

DECATUR — Millikin University leaders on Wednesday announced plans for the new Center for Theatre and Dance, a $25 million project expected to break ground next year. 

The opening is planned for the fall of 2020, officials said during a news conference at the campus' Albert Taylor Theatre. The new building aims to consolidate facilities for the School of Theatre and Dance and accommodate a growing number of students in those programs. 

The location for the building is planned near the old University Center behind Shilling Hall. Millikin is working with local architects BLDD in creating the Center for Theatre and Dance.

“Performance learning in action is at the heart and the center of all disciplines at Millikin,” university President Patrick White said during the announcement. “Nowhere more so than in the School of Theatre and Dance.”

More than half of the $25 million funding for the facility has been donated by Millikin alumni, community leaders and the college board of trustees. The remaining funds still need to be raised.

The facility will house faculty offices, studios, classrooms, labs and a convertible theater designed for easy changes depending on the production, officials said. Students pursuing arts technology, lighting and sound and costume design are also expected to benefit from the new space. 

Mary Black, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, said its enrollment has grown 42 percent in the past five years. Nearly 250 students are currently enrolled in the school's programs.

“As we’ve grown, our current facilities are no longer adequate,” she said.

More students could be attracted after recent positive attention toward the university's offerings. Its Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Acting degree program was recognized as one of the top 10 in the country last month, according to a survey published by the theatre news and review blog OnStage. The website in August 2016 also named Millikin as one of the best institutions to earn a bachelor's degree in musical theatre.

To sustain that success and allow room for growth, White said the new building is necessary.

“To keep our students and our program at this extremely high level, we need a Center for Theatre and Dance,” he said.

Millikin will continue to use its existing theater spaces, including the Albert Taylor Theatre and Kirkland Fine Arts Center, Black said. 

The school's faculty members have hoped and planned for their own building for many years, she said, and are happy to have more options for students. 

“Currently our performance venues, acting and dance studios, classrooms and offices are spread across a dozen different buildings on Millikin’s campus,” she said. “And the School of Theatre and Dance has continued to excel.”

As a junior studying theatre design, Caitlyn Garrity has worked in the university's existing technical studios and said she knows improving them will help students improve their craft. “Fully equipped lighting, sound and costume labs will give students access to technology they need,” she said.

Designers and technicians will have opportunities to work with updated and professional equipment. “We are already making incredible art at Millikin,” she said. “If you can take all that talent and skill and allow it to grow and foster in a building fully equipped for our needs, what we can do will be extraordinary.”

Black said the new center will have a fully equipped theater, production spaces, costume studios and laboratory spaces for lighting, sound and costume construction.

“(The facility) will allow students the tools and technologies as they need to prepare them for professional success in these areas,” she said.

Professional actress and 1999 Millikin alumna Annie Wersching spoke to the audience via Skype. Wersching has appeared on several television shows, including “24,” “General Hospital,” “Vampire Diaries” and “Castle.”

Remembering how she used to rush around campus, Wersching said it will be ideal to have all the classes in one building.

“Our classes were everywhere,” she said. “We were running around like crazy people.”

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"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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