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Performing Arts Center still Clayton's 'crown jewel'

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

With its teenage years now in the past, officials at Clayton County Public Schools' Performing Arts Center are expecting the facility will continue to roar in its twenties.

It was 20 years ago today — on May 20,1990 — when the building most people in the school system refer to as just, "The PAC," was feted during a grand-opening and-dedication ceremony, complete with performances from fine arts students.

Since then, it has hosted countless musicals, recitals, high school graduations, elementary and middle school awards and promotional ceremonies, concerts, plays, Parent-Teacher Association meetings, community gatherings and Clayton County Board of Education meetings.

"It's the crown jewel of Clayton County," said Anita Lloyd, the PAC's coordinator since 2005. "It shows the rest of the Southern Crescent, as well as all of Georgia, how important the arts are to our children."

In the 1980's, years before the Performing Arts Center opened its doors for the first time, it was just a dream of then-Superintendent Ernest Stroud, according to school system Director of Fine Arts Kay Sledge. The idea Stroud was floating to school officials, and the public, was to build a place where Clayton County students could be in the spotlight, said Sledge, who has been an employee of the school system for three decades.

"He loved the arts," Sledge said. "He wanted a venue for performing arts students in the county to show off their talents and abilities."

Sledge said the $7.5 million price tag for building and equipping the PAC was paid for with a bond referendum that was approved by Clayton County residents in the late 1980's. The school system's fine arts director said the building's architects were forward-thinking in their designs for the building, by putting in three theaters whose seats could be combined for large events.

The seating areas in the 250-seat Recital Hall, and the 340-seat Lloyd Tarpley Theatre can be rotated to merge with the seating area for the larger, 1,200-seat Ernest Stroud Hall. The three seating areas, combined, can provide nearly 1,800 seats for a performance.

As separate theaters, they give the PAC the ability to host three events at the same time, Sledge said. "That offers us the ability to accommodate more people on those prime nights of Friday and Saturday, when we have more events going on," she said.

Lloyd and Sledge each had several PAC-related moments which they said stood out in their minds. "Oh wow, the events that stand out for me are performances by the Atlanta Festival Ballet, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the concerts by groups like The Drifters and Little Anthony and the Imperials, and, of course, all of the wonderful student performances we've hosted over the years," Lloyd said.

While Sledge said she has enjoyed several performances at the Performing Arts Center over the years, there was one event that held special importance to her. "My daughter graduated from Jonesboro High School at the PAC [in 1992]," Sledge said. "Her graduation ceremony got rained out at Tara Stadium, and they had to move it to the PAC as a result."

As the school system's performing arts venue turns 20, it is in the midst of a series of renovations designed to keep it useful for students, and the community at-large, for years to come.

Last summer, new heating and air conditioning, and alarm systems were installed, and its lobby received a facelift. School system Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson said more renovations lie ahead for the facility, including new curtains, and renovations to the stages and dressing rooms.

It will also be expended to include classroom space for the district's Fine Arts Magnet High School, Jackson said. "We're doing an environmental impact survey right now to see if we will have to add a retaining wall, since the PAC is so close to the interstate," he said.