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May 6, 2002 - Aquinas College, Circle Theatre and the Catholic Secondary Schools (CSS) of Greater Grand Rapids officially broke ground today, marking the start of construction on a new $7 million community Performing Arts Center.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center were scheduled for 5:30 p.m. (May 6) at the theatre site on the College's Robinson Road property near Plymouth Road S.E.

The unique collaboration that brought together Aquinas, Circle Theatre and the two local Catholic high schools meshes college theatre arts with community theatre and high school drama to create an environment of education, enrichment and entertainment under one roof.

The heart of the facility is a main performance chamber providing 410 permanent seats arranged in a stepped-stadium-style, wrapping a thrust-style stage. The design provides an intimacy for both audience and performer with each seat having an excellent view. Flexible seating provides an additional 90 seats within the theatre for special events.

The collaboration between Aquinas College, Circle Theatre and the Catholic Secondary Schools of Greater Grand Rapids provides unlimited opportunities for collaboration on productions and theatre curricula.

Circle Theatre will move its entire operation to the Aquinas campus, where it will make its permanent home. Aquinas will own the Theatre while the Circle staff will manage the operation.

The two will not only share quality performance space, but also will develop joint year-round programming in all aspects of theatre and expand academic opportunities for college students majoring in theatre arts. Such joint programming is already underway.

The partnership with the Catholic Secondary Schools also reserves theatre time for separate and joint high school productions for both Catholic Central and West Catholic high schools. It will also create opportunities for drama students at both schools to earn college-level credit in theatre arts coursework and to be involved in both Aquinas and Circle Theatre productions. This feature of the partnership, also, is already in progress.

In addition, as the collaboration has incorporated the professional staff of Circle Theatre into the Aquinas Theatre Arts Department, it will also provide opportunities for CSS teachers to be included as adjunct faculty at the College.

Funding for the project has come through a joint Aquinas College/Circle Theatre capital campaign and includes a major contribution from supporters of the Catholic Secondary Schools.

The Performing Arts Center will feature support spaces for rehearsals, classrooms, set design and construction, set and equipment storage, prop rooms, costume storage as well as dressing rooms and make-up rooms.

Construction of the 28,500 sq.ft. theatre is expected to be completed in the Summer of 2003. Erhardt Construction is the general contractor. The Architects are Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber of Grand Rapids and Holabird and Root of Chicago.