A project years in the making is finally coming to fruition.

The new ETSU arts center is scheduled to be completed by fall or winter 2019 and construction will start in some capacity in fall 2017. The facility will be located in the lot beside the Millennium Centre.

“ETSU has amazing programs, but they’ve never had a first-class space to interact, perform and learn,” said Jeremy Ross, chief of staff for external operations at ETSU.

At this point, the facility is set to feature 90,000 square feet of space and will include a flex theater, a recital hall, a main auditorium and ancillary spaces for offices and practice areas for faculty and students.

On May 11, the architect will present a completed design development package to the State Building Commission in Nashville along with a construction budget. 

“Once approved, we will then develop construction packages,” Ross said. “We don’t have that designed yet, but we may start foundations or other packages prior to finishing construction documents.”

Construction documents are final specifications and drawings that define the complete package for contractors and subcontractors to bid.

Before the May meeting, the architects are meeting with the heads of all the departments that will appear in the building to discuss the kinds of programming that will be included with the center.

In September, the State Building Commission approved a plan that expanded the scope of the project, with assistance from Johnson City, and increased the budget from $40.65 million to about $52 million.

Ross said the arts center is now an approximately $55 million project, including state funding, private funding, contributions from the city and other in-kind gifts. An $8 million investment made by Johnson City this year will nearly double the amount of seating in the main auditorium, jumping from 635 seats to a minimum of 1,200. 

In May 2016, the Johnson City Press reported that features had been cut from the facility in response to the building going over its approved budget. Ross said when square footage estimates and preliminary department plans were done over a decade ago for the project, bluegrass was not a major, aerial dance was not a major and an art gallery was not included.

“When we started the programming, we did make an effort to look at what it would take to include all of the arts and fine arts in one building, but it was never added to the program or funding at the state level,” Ross said. “We made that effort, we did have more space for bluegrass, we had dance studios as well as an art gallery, but the budget was not able to include all of those spaces.”

Ross said those features were not part of the original budgeting, but they were part of the nebulous, preliminary plans for the building.

However, just because these amenities won’t be in the center itself doesn’t mean the university has given up on them.

“We’re looking for enhanced space on campus, downtown and in other places to accommodate those needs,” Ross said.