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New arts/dance center blends contemporary, classical designs

Jackson — Art and dance students at Belhaven College will inaugurate a beautiful new facility this fall with the opening of the $6-million Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center.

Scheduled for completion in August, the combination contemporary and classical design structure was designed by Jackson architect Michael Barranco. The goal was to make the new building blend with other buildings on campus and the residential location.

“We had more creative freedom because of the type of building it is,” Barranco said. “For an art and dance facility, we could stray some from the classicism of the other buildings. Still, we wanted it to fit in with the rest of the campus and the neighborhood.”

He said the side of the building that fronts Peachtree Street was scaled down to soften it, making it more compatible with the residential area.

Belhaven officials are pleased with the building’s design, too. “It really will be a wonderful facility and fits in with the other buildings,” said Dr. Roger Parrott, president. “Mr. Barranco did a great job of blending the architectural styles. He fit the building into a unique piece of ground with trees that are great for an art center.”

Parrott added that he could not be happier with the quality of the design and construction going into this newest building on campus. Evan Johnson Construction Company is the general contractor.

Tom Phillips, vice president of campus operations, is charged with being the school’s official connection with the contractor. He says winter rain was a challenge, but the company has done great catch-up work to make the August completion schedule.

“We’ve been able to work out all the challenges,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest and excitement in the new building. With its red brick and stucco exterior that’s similar to the other buildings, it will fit in real well.”

Barranco considered the building’s site a challenge. The Peachtree Street location, next to Caldwell Hall, is near Riverside Drive where Belhaven purchased the Independent Methodist Church building to use as another arts facility. Running out of space on their campus and boxed in by a residential neighborhood, the college plans to expand along Riverside Drive.

“This new building was located in the route to Riverside Drive to connect the two areas,” he said. “The site was sort of in a hole and we had to do some soil retainage work. The lower portion of the building will be used as a basement.”

The architect is pleased that they were able to design the 42,756-square-foot building in such a way to save a beautiful grove of trees that acts as a buffer to neighbors. Another interesting design feature is that the building pivots on a rotunda. The main entrance is through the rotunda with all areas leading from that space.

“There are student studios where upperclassmen can have their own space. These front Peachtree Street and have a balcony,” Barranco said. “That’s what’s being done in newer art buildings.”

Including the basement, the building has three levels. It’s been designed to be a maintenance free teaching facility that’s very user friendly for art. “It’s great!” he added.

He said his firm had a lot of input from Bob Pennebaker, assistant professor and chairman of Belhaven’s art department, and Cynthia Newland, associate professor and chairman of the dance department.

Parrott says the Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dancer Center was built for two primary reasons. “It was because of a remarkable art department that is growing and expanding to become one of the outstanding Christian art departments in the country,” he said. “They were spread out in three buildings and did not have a gallery. Also, the dance program is really growing and needed space. They both needed a facility to match their growth.”

He praised the Irby family for their commitment to the school and whose gift made construction possible. The arts building is named for the late Bitsy Irby, wife of the late Stuart C. Irby.

“They have been involved with Belhaven College for a long time,” he said. “They have served on the board and have been great admirers of the arts and dance.”

He expects enrollment in these programs to grow to 100 students in art and 150 in dance with the opening of this new building.

Belhaven College was founded in 1883 and had a total enrollment of 2,500 for the spring 2005 semester.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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