Visual art students will work along with performing artists in doing work such as building scenes for theater performances, and the center will have breezeways to allow students to observe theater productions as they are being worked on, school officials said.
Shepherd President David L. Dunlop described the building as a "broad project" which will be built in phases.
"It's ... like a good novel. We build up to the climax," Dunlop told a crowd inside the Frank Center.
Dunlop and other school officials and supporters of the project turned some ground for the project during a short ceremony at the site then moved the event inside as thunderstorms threatened.
Ed Herendeen, founder and producing director of The Contemporary American Theater Festival, recognized the theater's board of trustees who early on supported the idea for such a center and said the facility will be where "the future storytellers" work.
In addition to benefiting from the unique energy that university officials expect to see from combining the visual and performing arts, the center will also give the school's arts programs needed space.
Dunlop said Shepherd and West Virginia University are the two most overcrowded higher education schools in the state.
Shepherd is running out of room for its arts programs and some of them are being operated out of buildings other than the Frank Center, school officials have said.
School officials said $10 million has been secured from the state for the first phase, which will house a photography studio, administration offices, a print-making studio, painting studio, drawing studio and art education areas.
The center eventually will have two 250-seat theaters and one 150-seat theater and larger stages, allowing sets to be moved more quickly between theater festival performances, school officials said.
The school will look for donations from foundations, individuals and corporations to fund the rest of the project, school officials said.
Callas Contractors Inc. will build the first phase and work is expected to begin next month, Dunlop said. The first phase will be completed in about a year.