ADA — A $25,000 gift from Vision Bank of Ada to the East Central University Foundation Inc. will help ensure all the proposed features can be included in ECU's Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, the largest construction project in ECU history.

The fine arts center will combine ECU's art, music, theatre, speech and mass communication programs which now are scattered blocks apart. A 1,000-seat theatre, new art gallery, sculpture garden, photography complex and radio, TV and art studios will be highlights of the 85,000-square-foot facility.

When construction bids came in almost $4 million above available funds, however, partly because of the higher costs of building materials after devastating hurricanes along the gulf coast, the university was forced to seek additional funding or start slashing a number of educational facilities for students.

"This is why Vision Bank's gift is so welcome," said Dr. Bill Cole, ECU president. "ECU's vision was to build a fine arts center that will provide one of the largest state-of-the-art theatres in southeastern Oklahoma and bring these students together in a facility where they can learn the latest technologies and develop their creativity and talents."

Jim Hamby, president of Vision Bank, said the bank made the $25,000 donation because the fine arts center will serve for years to come as a venue for many events and performances that will improve the community's quality of life.

"The fine arts center is extremely important to the cultural future of this community," he said. "It's a huge facility. It's got to make a statement about the university and the town. It's going to help put Ada on the map, economically, and it will send a message to industries we are recruiting that we are a cultural community and that we focus on things that can improve our lives."

Cole said ECU has raised almost $800,000 in additional funds since Oct. 18 through donations from individuals, businesses or groups.

Naming opportunities are available, based on the amount of the gifts. The names of donors, or someone they want to honor, will be placed in areas throughout the center, from offices and practice rooms to studios, the lobby, photography complex and the art gallery and main theatre.

"People have been very responsive to our needs," Cole said. "It's been very gratifying. But we'll need another $400,000 to $450,000 in the next six months or we'll have to cut $1.25 million from the project."

Meanwhile, preliminary construction work began on the fine arts center after ECU awarded a bid to Shiloh Enterprises of Edmond for $22,587,560, which includes Phases I and II of the project.

The center will fill the entire block between Main and 10th Streets and Francis and Center.

The site has been blocked off, including a former parking area. Contractors have begun to prepare the base for a new parking lot north of the site on 10th Street and unpaved parking areas to the west. However, Cole said, asphalt plants are shut down in January and February.

"This is a one-semester problem," he said, but we can't do much about it. We will address parking problems as best as we can."

Funding for the fine arts center began with a $5 million gift from Hallie Brown Ford, an ECU graduate and strong ECU supporter. Other funds are coming from a capital bond issue approved by the Oklahoma Legislature to aid higher education institutions, a campus-based $5 million revenue bond package and from other facility fees and Section 13 and New College Funds, as well as additional private gifts.