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‘A gift to the community:’ Forsyth County Schools kicks off first performances at FoCAL Center with grand opening
FoCAL Grand Opening
Community members, leaders and families came in to see the Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center for the first time Friday, Dec. 3, and Saturday, Dec. 4, for its grand opening. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Forsyth County Schools welcomed community members, leaders and families into the new Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center for the first time Friday and Saturday for its grand opening.

The two-day celebration on Dec. 3-4 started with a ticketed event on Friday night as hundreds came out to FoCAL dressed in their best to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and see the first-ever performance on the center’s main stage.

Before the ceremony, Emcee Tom Sullivan took the stage to welcome guests and tell them a little bit about the new building.

With the main theater able to seat 1,813 guests and open black box theater being 2,408 square feet, Sullivan said the FoCAL Center is the largest facility of its kind in any school system in the state of Georgia, “and it’s right here in Forsyth.”

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FoCAL Grand Opening
FoCAL Center Director Dawn Phipps cuts the ribbon the main stage of the new performing arts center, officially inviting the community to take part in their first-ever performance on Friday, Dec. 3. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

The main theater includes 622 seats on the balcony level, a rising orchestra pit and two private viewing rooms located in the back of the main level. With a perfect view of the stage from any area in the theater, Sullivan called the building an “architectural feat.”

“What a gift to the community,” Sullivan said. “Let’s just take this in.”

After the welcoming, Sullivan introduced Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden to the stage. He took a moment to thank all the community members, FCS staff and leadership and local businesses who helped to make the FoCAL Center a reality.

He introduced the FoCAL Center’s first two community sponsors who committed to top-level donor options for the next three years: The Mooney Group and Andean Chevrolet.

As a “Bravo” level sponsor, the Mooney Group will have their name on one of the VIP rooms located at the back of the main theatre.

Andean Chevrolet is the first “Crescendo Club” top donor for the FoCAL Center, and Bearden officially announced during the event that the main theater will be named the James and Dorothy Otwell Theatre presented by Andean Chevrolet.

The Otwell family, owners of Andean, said the naming is in honor of their late grandparents who opened the business in Forsyth County in 1948.

“The FoCAL Center is much more than just a building,” said Joseph Otwell, Andean’s executive manager. “This facility is designed to support the fine arts programming of the district’s schools and the local community through access to quality arts and cultural entertainment and space for rehearsals, performances, trainings, meetings and other gatherings.”

“Our family is proud to be a part of this community and the FoCAL Center,” he continued.

FoCAL Grand Opening
The FoCAL Center's main theater will be officially named the James and Dorothy Otwell Theatre presented by Andean Chevrolet. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Brian Daniel, President and CEO of Carroll Daniel Construction Company, thanked his own team and the facilities team with FCS. As the general contractor for the building, he said the FoCAL Center has been a special project for them and the community.

“At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging on my own children, it’s pretty spectacular, isn’t it?” he said. “We build facilities every day, but not like this one.”

Bearden also thanked the FCS facilities team, FoCAL Advisory Council and Visioning Team who all had a huge hand in bringing the FoCAL Center to life. He gave a special thanks to FoCAL Director Dawn Phipps who has worked for more than a year to bring programming and events to the center for the school system and community to enjoy.

Phipps thanked each of the Forsyth County Board of Education members for their help, presenting them with a framed print of the new building.

Then, they officially kicked off the beginning of the FoCAL Center’s programming with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with community and school district leaders. Phipps cut the ribbon directly on the main stage, and the center immediately held its first performance.

The musical performance by Georgia Stitt and friends Kate Baldwin and Terry Burrell had the audience Friday night on their feet, garnering a roaring applause.

Stitt, who grew up in Atlanta, is a composer, lyricist, music producer and pianist, starting her career in New York City before composing several original musicals, including “Snow Child,” “Big Red Sun,” and “The Danger Year.” She also worked as a music director on several productions, including the upcoming film “13: The Musical” for Netflix.

Kate Baldwin and Terry Burrell, both singers and actresses, have taken to the Broadway stage in New York, starring in several roles. Baldwin is known for her role in “Hello Dolly!” and
“Finian’s Rainbow,” for which she was nominated for a Tony award. Burrell is known for her roles in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Three Penny Opera,” and “Into the Woods.”

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FoCAL Grand Opening
Guests enjoy food provided by culinary students and teachers from the school district's high school before seeing the FoCAL Center's first performance on Friday, Dec. 3. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
Guests enjoy food provided by culinary students before heading into the FoCAL Center's main theatre for the first-ever performance on Friday, Dec. 3. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Coming back from the performance Friday night, the entire community was invited out to the FoCAL Center for a free open house Saturday morning to continue the celebration.

Hundreds of community members came out to explore the new FoCAL Center and watch as fine arts students from throughout the district performed or displayed their art in the brand-new facility.

Through self-guided tours, families explored the main theater, black box theater, the featured lobby at the front of the building, the scene shop, catering kitchen, dressing rooms, green room, banquet and rehearsal halls and the balcony areas.

Performances from school bands, choirs, orchestras and others were held throughout the day outside of the building and each of the performing spaces — with FCS students serving as some of the first performers in the new space.

“This is incredible,” said Jon Travis, a local parent. “It’s awesome to have something like this in the community, especially knowing my kids will be able to take part in it like this.”

While many students in these programs had a chance to perform, others in visual arts programs throughout the county were able to display paintings, drawings and sculptures in a gallery located in the lobby.

Several district leaders thanked the students and teachers in these programs and CTAE programs for helping the event come to life this past weekend.

Phipps said she is dedicated to putting students and the school district as a top priority for the new performing arts center while still involving the entire Forsyth County community.

For more information on the FoCAL Center and how to get involved, visit www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/focal. The FoCAL Center is located at 1150 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming directly behind the Forsyth County Board of Education building.

FoCAL Grand Opening
Families crowd around the front of the FoCAL Center as students prepare for performances and parents explore on self-guided tours on Saturday, Dec. 4. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
A group of students prepare for a performance outside in front of the FoCAL Center during the open house on Saturday, Dec. 4. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
Families look at student paintings displayed in a gallery in the upstairs lobby of the FoCAL Center during the open house on Saturday, Dec. 4. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
Students’ sculptures were displayed along the walls between gallery spaces during the FoCAL Center open house on Saturday, Dec. 4. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
Denmark High School students perform a song in the main theatre of the FoCAL Center on Saturday, Dec. 4, as parents watch from the audience. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
The Silver City Elementary School choir poses for a photo before beginning one of the first-ever performances in the FoCAL Center’s rehearsal hall. They started their set with the Christmas classic, “Sleigh Ride.” - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
Guests filled the upstairs and downstairs lobby space before the FoCAL Center's first-ever performance on Friday, Dec. 3. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
The FoCAL Center's banquet hall features space for events, meetings or performances. Separated from the rehearsal hall by a collapsable wall, the room can also open up into a larger space. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
The FoCAL Center features a full kitchen that can be used for catering during events. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
The FoCAL Center features a scene shop near the main theatre where props and sets can be stored. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
The FoCAL Center's black box theatre is 2,408 square feet, painted entirely black to give room for various, dynamic performances. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
FoCAL Grand Opening
The Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center. - photo by Sabrina Kerns