More than two years after construction began on the Paul D. Wachholz College Center (WCC), the newest addition to the Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) campus has taken shape and detail work is underway inside the state-of-the-art performance hall.
The WCC will serve a dual purpose for the college, as half the structure will be dedicated to athletics facilities including a weight area, basketball and volleyball courts and multipurpose rooms, while the other half will be home to the school’s music department. The musical side includes classrooms, practice rooms, and small performance halls, while the entire building is anchored by McClaren Hall, a world-class performance hall that will seat just over 1,000 audience members. The WCC will also feature an art gallery, exhibition hall and outdoor amphitheater.
With completion of the 58,000-square-foot facility within sight, WCC director Matt Laughlin on July 12 announced the launch of the venue’s website, wachholzcollegecenter.org, unveiling the initial lineup of concerts, lectures, performances, and shows for this fall and winter.
“This actually makes what we’re doing here real,” Laughlin said. “It’s truly a milestone to see pages with artist bookings and ticket prices, but we still have a little ways to go.”
Laughlin grew up in Billings and graduated from the University of Montana before moving to Seattle and managing concerts and events in the city. He was hired as the WCC director last fall after spending more than 10 years in various director roles at the city’s Benaroya Hall, one of the premier concert venues in the country and home of the Seattle Symphony.
“Matt bringing this large city experience, having a vision and creating all this from scratch has been such an asset to this project,” said FVCC Communications Director Allison Linville. “We’re going to really level up our connection to the community from an arts and education perspective.”
The initial lineup of acts includes several musical groups as well as two speaker series. Canadian bluegrass trio The Wailin’ Jennys is scheduled as the WCC’s first performance on Nov. 4, though Laughlin said there’s a chance for a soft opening beforehand depending on when the final touches on the hall are completed.
Other musical acts currently scheduled include Postmodern Jukebox, Storm Large, Branford Marsalis, Noah Guthrie and The Suffers. In addition, the WCC will be the home of the Glacier Symphony and part of its 40th season will take place in McClaren Hall, signaling an upgrade in the orchestra’s acoustic space after performing in the Flathead High School auditorium.
Glacier Symphony conductor John Zoltek has said he wants to plan the sea-son’s concerts around the new regal, professional venue, with the kind of “symphonic blockbusters” that showcase the auditory experience the hall was designed to augment.
Other than musical acts, two five-part lecture series are booked out for the next year: Voices in the Valley and National Geographic Live.
“Benaroya Hall in Seattle had a big part in the arts and lecture scene beyond just being a music venue. That’s what I’m used to and what I’m trying to replicate here with the audience in the Flathead,” Laughlin said.
The Voices of the Valley series will kick off on Nov. 15 with author and humorist David Sedaris. The other speakers for the season will include author Anne Lamott, Def Jam Records Creative Director Cey Adams, photojournalist Annie Griffiths and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.
“I had a desire to bring in a series of individuals who are considered ‘masters of their crafts’ for lectures throughout the year,” Laughlin said, adding that visiting lecturers will also make guest appearances with FVCC departments to engage with students.
The National Geographic Live speaker series will include bear ecologist Rae Wynn-Grant and filmmakers Brian Smith and Andy Mann.
Laughlin said he will continue to announce new shows throughout July and August and has plans to continue ramping up the center’s offerings — including looking to bring in Broadway-style shows next year. In addition to the newly launched website, the Center will push out announcements on its new Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
“Venues like this are special — it’s so unique for a community like ours to have a venue like this,” Laughlin said. “I hope the people in the area get excited, because our goal is to bring a level of performance and talent to our backyard that people normally have to travel hours to see.”
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