Pasco Hernando State College held the official ribbon cutting of its Instructional Performing Arts Center (IPAC), which has been open less than a year, on Jan. 6. Speakers praised the public-private effort to bring the facility to fruition. (Photos: Charmaine George)

After nine months of operating quietly on the campus of Cypress Creek High off Old Pasco Rd., the Pasco Hernando State College (PHSC) Instructional Performing Arts Center (IPAC) is preparing to spread its wings in 2022.

On Jan. 6, PHSC and governmental officials held the IPAC’s official ribbon cutting, with a dozen or so local dignitaries (like county commissioners Ron Oakley and Mike Moore and Florida State Rep. Randy Maggard, a PHSC graduate) on hand to give short speeches, some of them focusing on the success of the IPAC and its future offerings to the community.

Afterwards, IPAC executive director Lauren Murray, DMA (pictured above), said that PHSC students have already embraced the theater classes, and will be able to take dance classes this semester and participate in the facility’s music program starting this fall.

There also will be group piano and guitar lessons, which also will be available to the public, and Murray (right photo)has high hopes for launching a community art series this fall, which would include things like jazz trios, locally produced musicals and even stand-up comics.

“It will be pretty diverse, with musical, theatrical and dance events that we expect will reach a broad range of people,” said Dr. Murray.

The state-of-the-art, 35,000-sq.-ft. IPAC features a number of studios for things like dance, music and video production, and the 444-seat Will Weatherford Theater — named for the former Florida Speaker of the House who helped secure funding for the $18-million facility, is considered the heart of IPAC.

The facility already has won two awards — a first place Special Projects in the Florida Educational Facilities Planners’ Association, Inc., 2021 Architectural Showcase!, and an Excellence in Collaboration award from the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a nearly $20-million investment in our region that will be truly transformational for our students, our families and the residents of this area,” said PHSC Provost Dr. Kevin O’Farrell. “There is really nothing like the Instructional  Performing Arts Center that we have here at PHSC.”

Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent for Pasco County Schools, was one of those first approached when the idea of building a performing arts center or arena came up years ago. He told the ribbon-cutting crowd that in his search for the right kind of design, he collected floor plans from the Tampa Bay area’s Mahaffey, Capitol and Straz theaters, and even a theater in Singapore that had a $100-million price tag.

“We didn’t quite get there,” he said, laughing. “Regardless of the cost, what we got was a jewel.”

There have already been 26 events held at the IPAC, most of them small and self-produced by local groups who rented the theater. There have been two fully-staged theatrical productions, musical events, day-long conferences and Dr. Murray said the active Indian community in Wesley Chapel has held two dance events with three more planned this spring.

She is hoping to augment the positive start with the community art series, outdoor festivals, week-long festivals and large-scale events.

“We plan to reach a lot of people,” Murray says. “We really are looking to cover the gamut.”

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