As prospective students of the performing arts arrive at the University of Central Florida for a special event on Saturday, they will be treated to faculty recitals, speeches and refreshments. But the star of their tour will be the new School of the Performing Arts building, a $25 million project completed in August — just in time for the new school year.

“It was tight,” said Paul Lartonoix, assistant dean of UCF’s College of Arts and Humanities.

In fact, the building still smells new — and some rooms are awaiting finishing touches.

But the offices and classrooms are complete, and on a recent weekday students were tap dancing to “All That Jazz” in a new studio, while down the hall a professor lectured a costume-design class on Elizabethan-era menswear.

The 75,000-square-foot building has a working theater-lighting lab so students can gain practical experience. And there’s a music-instruction lab with music and computer keyboards at each student’s desk that are all hooked into a sound system controlled by the instructor.

Studio floors are low-impact for dancers’ and actors’ feet, but sturdy enough to support scenery and props.

The floors and air ducts are constructed so sound cannot vibrate into adjoining spaces. Extra-thick walls and doors complete the soundproofing.

“If you’re trying to do a percussion rehearsal in one room and a string quartet in the next room, it will work,” said Christopher Niess, chairman and artistic director of the theater department.

A theatrical design classroom, in which accurately seeing colors is key, received an exemption from UCF’s requirement of using energy-efficient, compact fluorescent light bulbs, which distort colors.

As a whole, however, the building was constructed to be eco-conscious and is certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an international evaluator of Earth-friendly buildings.

Just as important as the technical specifications is the sense of purpose and collaboration forged by uniting the performing-arts disciplines in one structure, Niess said.

Previously, classrooms and faculty offices were scattered across UCF’s sprawling campus.

“Just being there in the same location, we already have several projects using people from both music and theater,” Niess said. For example, the upcoming play “Vinegar Tom” will use some musicians as actors.

The next phase of the project calls for adding a 520-seat theater, a smaller theater, a 600-seat concert hall and a smaller recital hall.

Because the emphasis is on performance space instead of academic use, UCF is turning to private donations rather than state money. The UCF Foundation, which raises funds for the university, has set a target of $65 million.

Though there’s no firm timetable for construction — it all depends on when the money is raised — Lartonoix said three years was “optimistic but not out of the question.”

In the meantime, Niess is focused on future students and what UCF can now offer them. The music and theater programs have been attracting more interest each year; about 550 are now in the theater program and 260 are music majors.

In the past, Niess said, students would become interested in UCF at recruitment fairs and conferences, but then lose their interest when they saw the school’s scattered, cramped classrooms.

He likes the message he’ll be able to give the potential students at Saturday’s recruitment event: “We have the faculty to make your experience wonderful, but now we have the facilities, too, to give you a competitive edge.”

Source:, Orlando Arts Blog, Nov. 19, 2010, Matt Palm, UCF’s new recruitment tool: $25 million School of Performing Arts