It’s the beginning of a new era for performing arts at Tyler Junior College.

The college broke ground on the new Rogers Palmer Performing Arts Center in a ceremony on Wednesday.

The new facility, which will take the place of Wise Auditorium, will serve as the centerpiece in TJC’s developing Cultural Arts District. The district eventually will stretch from the Tyler Museum of Art to TJC’s Culinary School.

Vice President for Advancement Mitch Andrews said the new facility will serve the college’s robust performing arts programs, many of which are as old as the college itself.

The center is expected to open in January 2021, just in time to celebrate TJC’s 95th anniversary.

The groundbreaking also served as Chancellor Mike Metke’s final public event, as he retires at the end of the month.

“This project addresses our No. 1 unmet need,” Metke said. “I talk about it as a new building because it’s not going to be just a renovation.”

Metke said the vision for the project grew from a concern about whether Wise was still adequate, or even safe, for performers.

The facility is notorious for what professors have nicknamed “the wicked steps” which force performers to go outside of the facility, often in the dark and exposed to the elements, just to cross to the other side of the stage.

That conversation about safety grew and Metke formed a steering committee to decide the path forward.

The Rogers Foundation, who have supported numerous projects at the college over the years, made a $3 million gift to name the new facility.

The center will add 14,000 square feet of space, including a new state-of-the-art stage, performance spaces, art gallery and rehearsal studios.

The entryway will be marked by the Will and Carol Jennings Lobby, and feature memorabilia from Academy Award-winning alumnus Will Jennings. The Amy Faulkner Stage is among other areas of the facility that will honor community members who have made substantial contributions.

The TJC Campaign for the Performing Arts was led by Sheryl Palmer and Margaret Perkins with the goal of raising $7.5 million in private funding for the new construction. Metke said the college also will launch a public phase of fundraising.

During construction the performing arts department will move performances to Jean Browne Theatre and other local venues, for larger performances such as the college’s annual Apache Belle Spring Show and the dance academy’s Nutcracker performance.

TWITTER: @TMT_Cory

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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