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WIU aims to expand enrollment, economy after breaking ground on new center for performing arts

The project has been in the works since the 1970s and just broke ground on Friday.

MACOMB, Ill. — A group of Western Illinois University programs is seeing new life after years of challenges with enrollment and finances.

WIU broke ground on its long-awaited new center for performing arts on Friday, Oct. 7, and school leaders and Illinois state officials gathered at its Macomb campus for the ceremony.

"We've waited a long time for this building," WIU College of Fine Arts and Communication Dean Billy Clow said.

"As we've waited and as we've worked through the delays and processes, we've made sure that we've kept up-to-date with the technology with the building, and we've made sure we kept up with the architecture," Clow said. "It gives them facilities to work in so that the talent that they have, matches the level of facilities we can offer them," Clow said.

The 100,000-square-foot building will include a state-of-the-art facility, expand spacing for classes, and allow students to learn in one location. It will also have a 900-seat proscenium theatre that will provide an ultramodern performance space for music, theatre and dance productions, as well as regional and national touring performances.

"It certainly will increase our visibility of our arts program," WIU President Guiyou Huang said. "All of these things together, we'll make the facility great and well-used by faculty and staff."

It's coming at a time when the school is trying to turn around recent enrollment struggles.

"A brand new facility like this that's going to be as nice as it is is going to bring in more people," student Jacob Behm said.

"Some of the facilities will be like modern classrooms, acting facilities, and music for the band," student Jaekwon Watkins said.

Officials said the project, which has been in the works since the 1970s, has been delayed for years due to funding and state issues.

The state is covering most of the costs of the more than $100-million-dollar project. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced $119 million in state funding during the event. 

Construction began in Sept. 2022 and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2024. 

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