WATERVILLE — Colby College on Saturday celebrated a groundbreaking for the $85 million Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, the largest academic building project in Colby’s history. The college bills it as the most advanced and innovative academic arts facility in the region.

The 74,000-square-foot center, scheduled to open in the fall of 2023, will include a performance hall, multipurpose performance areas and studios and Colby’s first arts incubator to facilitate and nurture emerging art forms, according to Colby President David Greene.

“For us, it’s literally a dream come true,” Greene said. “We all have dreams and many of them never come true.”

Greene was among about 40 Colby trustees, faculty, senior staff and students who turned out in the former Mary Low parking lot on Mayflower Hill Drive to celebrate construction of the center, named for Michael L. Gordon, a 1966 Colby graduate and trustee who was the lead donor among about 30 people who contributed to the project.

Gordon, a trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and co-founder of Angelo Gordon & Co., received a standing ovation when he stood to speak. He said it was a wonderful day and thanked everyone for gathering to celebrate the center.

“It’s just going to be fabulous when it opens in two years,” he said.

Michael Gordon, second from right, arrives to the groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for the future Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts at Colby College in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Gordon recalled walking the campus with Greene a few years ago as they discussed the best place for a performing arts center that would be home for actors, musicians, writers, directors, dancers and dreamers. They decided to call William Rawn of William Rawn Associates, Architects Inc. of Boston, to see what he thought. Rawn designed the building.

“He came up here and he drove straight to this spot and he said, ‘This is it,'” Gordon recalled.

The location is perfect because it is the gateway to the campus as one enters from Mayflower Hill Drive, he said.

“I think we’re all going to be amazed when this thing is built,” he said. “As you can see, the design is really beautiful. It’s direct, it’s not frilly, it’s beautifully done and utilitarian.”

Greene said that, unlike many art spaces that are closed off and people are able to access them only if invited, the Gordon Center will be welcoming to people both on and off campus.

“This building invites everyone in and I love that about it,” he said.

Colby has performing arts venues on campus that include Strider Theater, Lorimer Chapel, Bixler Auditorium and Given Auditorium, which are interspersed throughout campus and they will continue to be used for certain events, according to officials.

The city’s Planning Board a year ago approved plans for the Gordon Center and the ground work started in October 2020.

An architectural rendering provided by Colby College shows the planned performance hall inside a new Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts at the Waterville campus. Rendering by architects William Rawn Associates

The interdisciplinary and collaborative space will include a large performing hall that seats about 300. But with flexible size of staging, it will be able to accommodate larger or smaller audiences. Performance studios, each slightly different, will include a room that is acoustically well-tuned and has lots of glass and a view; a so-called “dark” studio to include full lighting control and lighting rigging; and a dance space. The spaces will be interchangeable and flexible. The performance hall, for instance, could be used for a large music event such as a symphony orchestra, or a smaller, chamber music performance. Faculty from the music, theater and dance departments will be intermixed in office suites to promote cooperation.

Besides the future performing arts center, Colby built a $6.5 million arts collaborative across Main Street downtown from the college’s $26 million Lockwood Hotel, which this year is housing about 100 students during the coronavirus pandemic. Colby also is constructing the $18 million Paul J. Schupf Art Center at 93 Main St. downtown. Between recent campus projects and downtown initiatives, Colby’s total investment in the arts totals more than $100 million.

Saturday’s speakers also included James Thurston, associate professor of theater and dance at Colby, and Yuri Lily Funahashi, associate professor of music and the department co-chair. She and Colby sophomore Ashley Ren, who plays violin in the Colby Symphony Orchestra, performed Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid,” with Funhashi on piano.

Gordon is nonexecutive chair of Angelo Gordon’s Partnership Advisory Board. Angelo Gordon is a leading investment management firm that specializes in nontraditional assets. An economics major at Colby, Gordon also earned a juris doctor degree from Boston University School of Law in 1969. In addition to serving on Colby’s Board of Trustees, he serves on Colby’s Museum Board of Governors and is a former member of the College’s Board of Visitors. He also is a member of the national advisory board of Facing History and Ourselves, and serves as director of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

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