Decker Auditorium will get new look, better function

-Image courtesy of OPN Architects
This is the final rendering of the design for the south entrance to the Iowa Central Center for Performing Arts. The exterior wall on the southeast corner will have space for potential public art, College President Jesse Ulrich said.

This spring was the final curtain call for Iowa Central Community College’s Decker Auditorium.

The 50-year-old building is set to undergo a complete facelift, along with the construction of a new Center for Performing Arts.

The college’s Board of Trustees approved a bid from Sioux City-based Klinger Construction for $11,907,000 during a special meeting on July 25. On Tuesday, the board will formally approve the contract with Klinger.

Jensen Builders Ltd., of Fort Dodge, also submitted a bid for the project at $12,200,000. The project was designed by the Des Moines architecture firm OPN Architects.

The need for updates to the auditorium have been apparent for many years, said Dr. Jesse Ulrich, Iowa Central president. It was part of the 2018 bond referendum with $3 million earmarked for the project.

-Image courtesy of OPN Architects
This is the final rendering of the design of the renovation to Decker Auditorium on Iowa Central’s campus.

“And what that was going to cover is very minimal in regards to some of the improvements that were needed,” said Mary Ludwig, executive director of development and alumni. “Upon additional feedback from the community, we realized that Decker Auditorium needed much more in order to bring it up to where it should be to best serve our community and the students.”

At that time, the priority was the new Greehey Family Student Success Center, an $8.6 million project that was completed in 2020.

“The additional time allowed us to take a holistic approach to all of what we offer in that space and the reality is the space doesn’t do justice to what our students need when they come here to seek that student experience in the performing arts,” Ulrich added.

When the auditorium was first designed and constructed in the mid-1970s, it was designed to be a lecture hall. Today, it’s used for Iowa Central’s band, choir and theater programs, as well as dance team performances and more.

Many community organizations and clubs use the auditorium space throughout the year, including area high schools, dance studios, politicians, civic groups, theater and music groups. But there have been times when the college has had to turn them away because the set pieces for the musicals and plays are constructed in the middle of the stage.

“We’ve had to close down the auditorium to outside organizations months in advance of a performance because we don’t have a side area to construct sets in,” Ulrich said.

In addition to completely renovating the auditorium with new seating, new lighting and a new sound system, this project will also construct a Center for Performing Arts, extending the building to the south. The center will have a new band room, theater room, expanded classroom spaces, a set shop and additional bathrooms. The whole space, including the auditorium, will be fully ADA accessible, something the current auditorium is not. ADA seating will be added, and there will be a ramp access to the stage. Currently, the stage is only accessible by steps.

The installation of an elevator will also add ADA accessibility to the second floor and balcony of the auditorium.

“Folks who have issues with stairs could never sit in what I call premium seating in those first couple rows in the balcony and have that amazing view,” Ludwig said.

“We’ve really thought about it through different lenses of the little things that we can do to make it a better experience,” Ulrich added.

The auditorium has been a second home to many Iowa Central performing arts students over the years, said Theresa Jackson, director of theater and professor of communications.

“When I sit in this space, I hear echoes of laughter and I see the footprints of thousands of student performers,” she said. “Yet we are in a danger zone. We have so much now that needs to be fixed. We could have major performers here, but their advance people take one look at the facility and turn us down.”

The auditorium itself will still have approximately 1,100 seats, but one major change is that the orchestra pit area in the new design can also be filled with seats when an orchestra pit is not needed.

During construction, Iowa Central will continue to put on fine arts performances with band, choir and theater — they just may look a little different and be in a different space.

“Our team is very good at knowing how to find Plan B, just like we did during COVID,” Ludwig said.

The Iowa Central Community College Foundation is getting ready to launch a capital campaign to raise a large portion of the nearly $12 million project cost.

“We have wonderfully generous folks in our service region who care about the fine arts and care about the student experience and utilizing this space,” Ulrich said. “This is an opportunity for them to really invest in that.”

Iowa Central’s facility is the largest performance venue in the college’s service region, Ludwig said. With the renovation and new construction, it has the potential to bring in visitors from all over northwest and north central Iowa.

As soon as the contract with Klinger is signed on Tuesday, Ulrich said he expects construction will begin right away. The project is anticipated to take about 18 months.

“This is probably the biggest project Iowa Central has really undertaken in the last 20 years,” Ulrich said. “This is the most public building we have on campus. It’s really, really important for us to get it right and it’s something that people will be proud of.”


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