Palm Beach State College opens new outdoor amphitheater

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Jean Wihbey, provost at Palm Beach State College's Palm Beach Gardens campus, has always loved the arts - especially theater and ballet.

"I feel emotionally and spiritually connected to the arts," Wihbey said.

Wihbey wants PBSC students to feel that same connection, which is why for over a year she pushed the school to build an amphitheater on campus.

"The arts lifts my spirits, and I think all of us should have that kind of experience," Wihbey said.

Yesterday at noon, PBSC celebrated the opening of its first outdoor amphitheater. The 1,205-square-foot theater cost about $51,000, according to a PBSC spokeswoman and is in the center of campus. The theater is the second phase of a $851,000 campus green improvement project which began with the construction of the Myrna Rubenstein Pavilion in 2006. The pavilion opened in 2008.

The project also includes a pond, a grassy sitting area and an eco-friendly landscape. The space, Wihbey said, seats about 450 people.

PBSC still needs another $150,000 to upgrade the sound system and the student seating space, Wihbey said. The school is looking for a donor and hopes to complete the project in about a year.

Getting the amphitheater built was a hard-sell in a down economy. But with campus enrollment increasing 30 percent in five years (over 9,000 students are enrolled at the Palm Beach Gardens campus, up from 6,400 in 2006), Wihbey pointed out that PBSC could rent out the space to raise money.

An Earth Day celebration is scheduled to be held at the amphitheater on April 21, Wihbey said.

The amphitheater, which took four months to build and comes with inflatable movie screens, will also be used to recruit high school seniors, Wihbey said.

"We want them to see they'll have these kind of opportunities available to them," Wihbey said.

The school already has the 750-seat Edward M. Eissey Theatre, but Wihbey said she hopes the amphitheater will attract a younger crowd.

"This amphitheater will just be an extension of the Eissey Theatre," she said. "Younger folks don't mind sitting on a lawn."

But the main purpose of building the amphitheater was to give students another area to socialize while exposing them to the arts.

"The indoor space for students to congregate is limited," Wihbey said. "Florida is beautiful and being outside is a wonderful thing."

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