In 1996, after 73 years of life as a school, the School District of Janesville closed the “old Marshall” middle school, having replaced the facility with a new school on the city’s east side. The decision to close the building, formerly known as Janesville High School, had been controversial. Among other concerns, alumni and long-time residents feared it would be torn down, its historical role in the community lost. Advocates of downtown development also feared the loss of the structure of, that if the school were not torn down, that it would succumb to neglect and blight. Arts supporters particularly regretted the potential demise of a theater that had served the community so long and so well.
A ray of hope developed in the spring of 1997 when the school distrcit put the building up for sale. Stone House Development of Madison submitted a bid that included a plan to convert the classrooms of the old school to apartments. The bid also included a provision for leasing the theater and music wing back to the community for use as a community performing arts center. The offer was acclaimed by local performing arts organizations that for eyars had been scheduling programs in school and churches not always well suited to their needs. Finally, there was some opportunity for the arts to get a home of their own. The school district accepted Stone House’s bid and the community movement to develop the performing arts center facility was underway.
In a series of public meetings, the United Arts Alliance took the lead in promoting the idea of a centralized home for the arts in Janesville. Then, in response to a need for a specialized group to implement the project, the Janesville Performing Arts Center Board of Directors was formed. The original board was comprised of a cross-section of community leaders representing business, education, and the arts.
In May of 2001, the project began to gain momentum. Two individual donors stepped forward with $100,000 each to get the projected off the ground. The first coordinated effort of the campaign was an appeal led by Al Hough and Bob Kimball targeting the alumni of the school. The board then hired Engberg Anderson Design Partnership of Milwaukee as the project architect and JP Cullen & Sons as the general contractor.
In February 2003, Theatre Unlimited, Inc. stepped up and donated the proceeds from an entire production to the performing arts center project, a gift of $54,000. Although the campaign had now exceeded $1 million in donations, costs were raising the project goal to almost $2.8 million.
In April of 2003, a $1 million donor came forward contingent on having the City of Janesville match the gift. On June 9, 2003, in a Council Chamber packed with arts and community supporters, the City Council voted to match the anonymous donor’s $1 million gift with a $1 million donation from the citizens of Janesville.
After several more stages of fundraising, groundbreaking was held on November 18, 2003 with a completion date set for September of 2004. Sutterlin Restorations stepped up to make the case for a decorative design of the interior that would honor the building’s history rather than cover it up. The physical structure now stands as a beautiful example of an adaptive reuse of an historic downtown property, ready to serve the local arts community and the residents of Janesville and the entire stateline area.
Today, JPAC is a relevant, vibrant and cultural organization thriving in downtown Janesville.
Unlike most venues, JPAC is not a presenting organization. Instead, the theatre serves as a rental facility for non-profit arts organizations that need a cultural home to produce their unique art. Currently, approximately fifteen user groups rent the theatre annually making up JPAC’s season calendar.
Each year, JPAC serves over 30,000 local community members and nearly 5,000 students through school programming.