With its sights on the future, the Franklin Special School District entered into a whole new dimension Friday.

Make that two dimensions, actually, as the district held a couple of ribbon cuttings for new additions that are now open and operational. Students, staff, Board of Education members and many others were on hand for ceremonies marking the opening of a new gymnasium at Poplar Grove Elementary School Friday morning and a “state-of-the-art” performing arts center later that afternoon.

Performing arts center

The opening of the PAC marks a milestone for the district, according to a news release. It’s a 34,400-square-foot facility that seats 490 people. Seating surrounds a thrust stage, which extends into the audience on three sides, with a 120-square-foot proscenium. 

The stage is equipped with a full 49-foot fly loft accessible by catwalks. The PAC also features dressing rooms, pre-performance spaces and prop rooms along with a building workshop, concessions stand, ticket booth and the Legacy Gallery. 

The PAC was designed to showcase the seasonal school plays, holiday musicals and graduation ceremonies for all eight FSSD schools. Once fully operational and the school event schedule is set, it will also be accessible to the community and can be rented by the public for special events. 

FSSD PAC Erickson Gentry

Alisha Erickson, Poplar Grove Elementary School principal, and FSSD Communications Director Susannah Gentry stand in the Legacy Gallery that's part of the district's new performing arts center.

The Legacy Gallery, a 650-square-foot curated installation, came through project  leadership from Poplar Grove Elementary Principal Alisha Erickson and FSSD Communications Director Susannah Gentry. They were able to bring in the design team that had created a similar space at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Our new Legacy Gallery includes a history of FSSD since its inception in 1906,” FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden said at Friday afternoon’s event. “We wanted to be able to tell the story of FSSD from a historical perspective and to provide a space to continue the story now and into the future.”

FSSD PAC David Snowden

FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden

Snowden said the PAC as a whole will benefit not only the teachers and students the district serves, but also the greater community.

“The Franklin Special School District places an intentional focus on educating the whole child,” he said in the release. “That means that we believe the fine arts are not only necessary but are a critical component of student learning.

“The new performing arts center will be open to all students, and its use will expand and enhance the exceptional programs that are a part of every school in the district. We look forward to this state-of-the-art facility providing students and community members with a meaningful way to participate in the arts.”

New gymnasium

For years, Poplar Grove Elementary and Poplar Grove Middle shared a gym, which caused scheduling challenges and created the need for an alternate space to hold physical education classes, sporting events and large school gatherings.

The elementary school’s new gym includes a full-size basketball court, two cross-court practice courts, a volleyball court, four-square courts and 480 seats for students and spectators. Additionally, the gym features a concession stand, multiple locker rooms, teacher offices and a multipurpose room that doubles as a storm shelter.

“This is a great day for the FSSD,” longtime board member Tim Stillings said during ceremonies for the new PAC. "Just this morning we cut the ribbon on this beautiful new gymnasium at Poplar Grove Elementary School. 

“It’s been in the works for over 25 years. As a member of the Board of Education 25 years ago, I was on the committee that made a promise that this gymnasium would one day be built. So promise made, promise kept and today is that one day.”

Wold | HFR Design served as the architect and Nabholz Construction served as the construction manager for both projects.