Averett University President Tiffany Franks stepped to the podium in front of Pritchett Auditorium in the heat of Thursday afternoon.
“Take a good close look at this building behind me,” Franks told the crowd. “You think it could use a facelift?”
Pritchett Auditorium, home to the university’s theatre department, will be getting massive renovations this year turning it into a new facility.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday at Pritchett with more than 50 people in attendance. The renovations are part of Averett’s $25 million capital campaign. Pritchett’s new look is expected to cost around $1.65 million.
Renovations include an expanded lobby to provide event seating for 100 and an art gallery with standing room for 600 people. The new lobby will allow Averett to host dinner theatre events, gallery exhibitions for students and visiting artists, host performer receptions and provide an arts-community gathering space unlike anything else in Danville.
Pritchett currently holds around 600 people for performances and other ceremonies. The new addition will mostly be in the lobby, which is often too small for the large crowds that fill into the auditorium.
The new lobby, which will have a modern clear glass look, will be able fit around 100 people and have large screens to air auditorium events when the crowd is too big.
The facility will also be outfitted with an upgraded heating and air conditioning system, first floor restrooms, new windows, new stage curtains and an orchestra pit.
Project architect Gary Harvey said the new building design will blend “classic” and “contemporary” and mockups have already been done.
The project was expected to take longer to get off the ground. However, an Averett graduate — who wished to remain anonymous — supplied a $1.2 million grant for the project, according to Franks. The rest of the $400,000 was supplied through various donations. The project should be complete in December.
Ever year the Arts at Averett series serves an average of 6,000 local students and community members. While school leaders said the renovations are designed to benefit the school’s brand and the community, the theatre students have taken it to heart that their line of study was not forgotten.
Everyone at the ceremony was treated to a surprise performance from Averett Theatre students. They were choreographed by artist-in-residence Brad Bass who helped with Averett’s performance of “Chicago.”
Averett junior DaNiesha Carr said the theatre in Pritchett Auditorium is her “home” and she spends the majority of her time at school.
“While our theater undergoes these renovations I will essentially be homeless,” Carr said jokingly. “I’m going to miss having my own special place to go to, but I think about that day when the construction will be done, when the dust will finally be settled and I will be allowed to come to my home again. I think of that day and through my sadness a smile crosses my lips because I know that in the end it will all be worth it.”
Holland reports for the Danville Register & Bee.