The Santa Monica Community College District broke ground on its new Madison Campus visual and performing arts complex Wednesday, January 19th.

Madison Campus is at 1310 11th St., in Santa Monica.

The arts complex is expected to cost $32 million, with funding coming from public and private sources.

Designed by Santa Monica-based architect Renzo Zecchetto, the arts complex is seven years in the making and estimated to be completed in 2007.

“We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us,” said Dale Franzen, director of The Madison Project, a coalition of college district officials and entertainers who helped make building the facility a reality.

“We know this venue will become a cultural center for the whole community — this is the dream,” Franzen said.

Seven years ago, college district president Piedad Robertson asked Franzen, an opera singer, to test the sound in the old Madison Campus auditorium.

Not liking what they heard, both women agreed that the college district needed a state-of-the-art facility.

The complex is funded with $24 million from last year’s Measure S, $3 million from Measure U three years ago, $1 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for parking, and from private funds raised by the SMC Foundation.

Actor Dustin Hoffman, a 1956 Santa Monica College alumnus, chaired the capital campaign to raise private funds to design and construct the complex.

Hoffman’s theater company, 3 Coasts, will take up residence at the theater when built.

The theater company will present two Broadway-style productions each year under the direction of Hoffman and Broadway producer Ron Kastner.

“I grew up here and I didn’t see a theater like this then,” Hoffman said. “Has everybody seen the design of the theater?

“I want to play there. Actors and directors are going to want to play there.”

The arts complex will feature a 541-seat multipurpose performing arts hall, an art gallery, a rehearsal hall converted from the old auditorium, and improved parking spaces.

College district officials said the facility would be the newest and best visual performing arts complex on the Westside.

In a ceremonial gesture to interim college district president Tom Donner, Robertson handed him a construction hard hat and shovel.

Donner will oversee construction of the complex until a permanent college district president is selected.

Robertson resigned from her president’s post, which she held for nine years, to lead the Education Commission of the States, a national education policy organization.

“The arts ignite the mind, and give us the opportunity to dream and speak from the soul,” Robertson said. “This is a unique occasion.

“You are all here at the moment of birth of what will be a legacy.”

State Senator Sheila Kuehl, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sent congratulatory proclamations.