When Pasco County deputy superintendent of schools Ray Gadd first came across the sprawling 250 acres or so of property on Old Pasco Rd., he decided he wanted it.
However, he couldn’t have it — it was under the control of home builder D.R. Horton, which had portions of it under contract with three different people.
Disappointed, Gadd told the home builder that if those contracts fell through, to let him know.
And fall through they all did, leaving Gadd and Pasco County planning director Chris Williams with an opportunity to convince three different people to sell their slices of the parcel.
Years later, on a perfectly sunny and cloudless day, Gadd stood on that property smiling, with Cypress Creek Middle/High School behind him, a separate Cypress Creek Middle School under construction to the north of him, and the future home of the Instructional Performing Arts Center (IPAC) on the nine acres beneath his feet.
The IPAC, a joint $18-million venture between Pasco County Schools and Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC), celebrated the IPAC’s official groundbreaking on April 23, with Gadd sharing the story of the land’s acquisition with a crowd of 100 or so.
“Chris Williams and I sat in a little block home… with a couple, and we negotiated their part of the land,” Gadd said. “Then, we went out to a trailer in a little ranch and stable up the hill, about where the middle school is going up and negotiated that piece of land. That was easier than the third gentleman we negotiated with…but ultimately we got all 250 acres. So, that was the beginning of this vision.”
The IPAC facility, which will be located at 8701 Old Pasco Rd. in Wesley Chapel, is expected to be the bridge for students interested in performing arts at Cypress Creek Middle/High.
The facility is a joint effort between PHSC and the Pasco School District, and will offer programs in dance, theater and music, both vocal and instrumental. It also will offer dual enrollment opportunities for local high school students.
“It’s a huge bonus for us,” said Cypress Creek Middle/High principal Carin Hetzler-Nettles. “The dual enrollment opportunities that our students will have at their fingertips is exceptional.”
Dr. Stanley Giannet, the vice president of academic affairs and faculty development at PHSC, said the facility will have an “economic development flavor” to it as well, with a new Associate of Science degree in digital design and multimedia technology.
“It’s a high-wage, high-skill industry, and those who finish our (new) program will be immediately employable,” Giannet says.
Although the facility will be run by a center director who will be a PHSC employee, Giannet says there will be “significant levels of collaboration” in regard to the programming and the pipelining of students into the center.
The state-of-the-art performing arts space also is expected to attract artists from all over the country, as well as those locally, and is expected to generate additional revenue for both the county and PHSC.
According to Gadd, the theater’s overhang and lobby area can be used to host banquets and meetings, so the local chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs can hold events there, and the master agreement allows for serving alcohol at the center (but not at the adjacent schools).
“It’s going to be a full-blown professional theater,” Gadd said. “There will be student productions, (acting) troupes that can book shows and maybe even some old rock-n’-rollers that want to play music. Hopefully, the community will take advantage of it in that respect. That’s the dream.”
The dream of the district, as well as PHSC, to build a performing arts center in has existed in some form for years. Originally, it was expected to be built near PHSC’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch. Developer JD Porter, whose family donated the land the college (and Wiregrass Ranch High and Long Middle School) is built on, even talked of a performing arts facility as an attraction for Wiregrass Ranch’s future town center north of S.R. 56, near the forthcoming indoor athletic facility to be called the Wiregrass Sports Complex.
But, Porter has withdrawn interest following the decision to move the project to the Cypress Creek campus, which is more than 10 miles away from the PHSC campus.
Money to build the project — $15.5 million — was secured with the help of then-Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Will Weatherford. The school district donated 5.85 acres on the Cypress Creek campus’ southeast corner to the college, which will pay for the remaining construction costs of the $18-million project.
The IPAC, as well as the already-under-construction Cypress Creek Middle School, are both scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.
The separate middle school also will feature a state-of-the-art 150-seat black box theater, and an orchestra room that also will accommodate dance and chorus programs.
The planned performing arts center — the second major PAC at a Wesley Chapel school site (the other is at Wesley Chapel High on Wells Rd.) — also is expected to enhance PHSC’s regional appeal to students at its Dade City campus, 13 miles to the east, and maybe even, Dr. Gianett says, its Brooksville campus 30 miles to the north, especially once the Overpass Rd. interchange at I-75 is built.
“Having the Instructional Performing Arts Center here will elevate both schools,” Giannet said.