Dr. Amy Greear, Executive Director MECC Foundation and Mark Vanover, Executive Director of the Rapha Foundation. Courtesy of MECC.

The Rapha Foundation of Norton has pledged $500,000 to support a community outdoor amphitheater on the campus of Mountain Empire Community College.  

More than $2 million in funding has been gifted to support the project, with the design and engineering phase of the amphitheater expected to begin this summer, according to a release from the school.

“The Rapha Foundation Board is pleased to be able to play a role in bringing this important project to reality.  A venue like this will not only provide an educational resource to MECC students, but to students and others across the coalfields.  It is our hope that this facility will play a significant role in advancing Arts education in our region,” said Rapha Foundation Executive Director Mark Vanover in a statement.

The outdoor amphitheater project is the first major infrastructure addition to the Mountain Empire campus in more than a decade. The projected cost of the project is expected to land between $1.5M – $5M depending on the scale of additions such as public restrooms, covered seating areas, and sound and lighting equipment.  

In 2021, the Slemp Foundation pledged $1.5M to support the project, with a request to provide a $500,000 match in additional fundraising for the project. The Rapha Foundation’s gift will fully meet the requested fundraising match and will allow project development to begin this summer.  

The Rapha Foundation gift also follows the announcement of a $50,000 grant award from Opportunity Appalachia to support engineering and design services for the outdoor amphitheater project. Opportunity Appalachia is supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the US Department of Treasury CDFI Fund, Truist, Goldman Sachs, and the Dogwood Health Trust. The grant will provide technical assistance to support structuring of project financing and architectural/engineering design. 

The amphitheater is expected to be constructed in the field adjoining Phillips-Taylor Hall’s Goodloe Center, with the Powell Mountain visible in the background. The college expects to hold graduation, outdoor classroom learning opportunities, Home Craft Days and Mountain Music School events, as well as partner with the Town of Big Stone Gap, Wise County, Pro-Art, the Crooked Road, the Barter Theater, and other municipal and non-profit entities to host community events at the facility. 

The Rapha Foundation was formed in 2019 following the merger of Ballad Health and Norton Community Hospital. The Community Healthcare Foundation, which received its federal nonprofit status in 2001, became The Rapha Foundation, a registered nonprofit organization dedicated to “improving population health and access to education in Southwest Virginia.”