An artist’s initial rendering of the McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts planned for Reedley College. Source: Darden Architects, Inc.
Written by David Castellon
When designing a building, there sometimes come anxious moments when ideas don’t quite gel.
Martin A. Ilic was starting to feel that way as he worked last year on designing a new, state-of-the art performing arts center at Reedley College.
Oddly, when inspiration did hit the designer for Fresno-based Darden Architects, Inc., it came not in the visual form in which he works, but rather by smell.
It happened when Ilic, who lives near the college, walked outside of his home one morning and smelled the mandarin blossoms in nearby orchards.
“That morning, it kind of hit me, and I started thinking, well, lets look at the shape of the mandarin, to see if this building could relate to ag, which is the context that surrounds this whole area. It is an ag-driven city, if you will.”
After some thought, however, he stopped focusing on the fruit and instead on the blossoms of the various fruit trees that grow throughout the area, which became the inspiration for his design of the planned $27 million McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts.
Not that the 24,000 square-foot hall, expected to be completed in late 2022, will actually look like a tree blossom.
Instead, Ilic said, his initial design has elements inspired by blossoms, including the curves of the building inside and out and the exterior building “shell” that will have LED lighting around it, allowing it to look like the colors of peach, mandarin and other blossoms, as well as occasionally using other colors, including the school colors.
Lighting around the stage will similarly allow that area to undergo the same sorts of color changes inside, the designer noted.
“It’s not just your regular-looking building. It’s meant to stand out,” said George Cummings, district director of facilities planning for the State Center Community College District, which oversees Reedley and other Valley community colleges.
Both he and Darden officials say the McClarty Center will not look like any other entertainment complex in the Valley, and it will have a technological leg up in that instead of having large speakers moved to accommodate the sound delivery needed for different sorts of performances, the walls and ceiling will be peppered with hundreds of tiny speakers and microphones that can be modified using a computer tablet to deliver sounds in different ways, including a cathedral-like sound for choirs or coral groups, crisper sound better suited for a lecture and various other sound features in between for rock concerts, musical theater performances, orchestras, etc.
Another important feature in the current plan includes an art gallery that can be extended to an outdoor courtyard for showing student art and the work of guest artists.
But the main purpose of the planned McClarty Center is to be a concert hall, which makes the plan a big deal not only for college officials, but also the Reedley community.
“Reedley has a really strong music community, and that has been born out in that this project has been kind of on the wish list and on the plans for the college campus since the 1970s,” Cummings said.
The city and this rural part of the Valley never has had a large concert venue, with only a few high school auditoriums and churches coming close.
But in terms of size, design and technological features, you might have to go to Davis and the Bay Area to find anything that comes close to what is planned, Ilic added.
The hope is the hall not only will be a venue for music students to practice and perform, but it also would draw outside performers — the sort that normally might opt to perform at urban venues — which not only should appeal to community members, but also draw people from other parts of the Valley who may also eat, buy gas and spend time in Reedley, he said.
As for where the concert hall will be located, it will be built in what is now a stone fruit orchard on the northeast edge of the campus.
Originally, college officials envisioned a 750-seat theater area, but discussions with officials, along with cost considerations and some factors related to the location required a downsizing of about 200 fewer seats, though its appearance looks much the same as it did in his original concept, Ilic said.
“I think he was able to bring a design the community would embrace,” Cummings said of Ilic’s work, though the final design hasn’t been approved and some changes may come down the road.
As for the name of the performing arts center, it comes from Harold McClarty, a local farmer whose $1 million donation got the ball rolling.
The center also is being funded by part of the $485 million Measure C bond voters approved in 2016 to fund new construction at community colleges in Madera and Fresno counties.
At Reedley College, other Measure C projects in the works include a new agricultural building and renovations to some existing ag buildings, along with construction of a two-story, 21,000-square foot Math and Science Building — which will include instructional and work areas for students training to become dental hygienists — the latter of which Darden also is designing.
Ilic said that building is a more modern building than others on the campus, which opened in 1956 and will include a center courtyard where students can socialize and study, as well as occasionally have outdoor instruction.
He added that elements of his new classroom building — the design for which has been approved — likely will influence future building styles at Reedley College.
He said it’s all a labor of love, as he cherishes the opportunity to take his daughter one day to the new concert hall and that his daughter and other children can grow up to be young adults and learn at a place he designed or in other buildings influenced by his design.
“And for this to happen in a rural area — not in an urban setting — is big.”