This artist rendering shows an aerial view of what the Oak Lawn Community High Performing Arts Center will look like. The 25,000-square-foot facility will replace the north tennis courts and will be located near 95th and Austin Avenue, just north of the football field and track.
Construction will begin over the Memorial Day weekend for a state-of-the-art performing arts center on the campus of Oak Lawn Community High School.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place on Wednesday night for the center, which will be located where tennis courts are presently located at the northwest corner of the campus near 95th Street and Austin Avenue.
“Oak Lawn Community High School has wonderful amenities, but the one thing it doesn’t have is a theater,” said Dr. Michael Riordan, District 229 superintendent, during a sparsely-attended community meeting Monday night at the school. “We are now going to make this a reality.”
Riordan said that the students deserve a performing arts center, pointing to the fact that Oak Lawn Community High School has won 11 Illinois High School Association Drama state championships, one speech state title, and numerous band and choir accomplishments.
Robert Loehr, president of the District 229 Board of Education, said the project should take just over a year to complete.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure this is done with as little inconvenience as possible for the neighborhood,” Loehr said.
Mary Lou Harker, who lives near the high school and has been active in various organizations and has served as a community activist, said that she is in agreement that the students deserve a performing arts center. But she still had some concerns.
“I’m for it, I’m just saying that I think our little neighborhood has taken a beating,” Harker said, believing the project could create congestion and an increase in noise.
Riordan responded that there always could be some unforeseen occurrences. However, he assured residents that trucks from the Henry Bros. construction company in Oak Lawn will not drive down side streets while the project is going on.
The superintendent added that if residents had any concerns, they can call him at school or send an email.
Plans for a performing arts center for Richards High School, 10601 S. Central Ave., Oak Lawn, is also going to take place.
The PAC will be multifunctional, including a seating capacity of 630, and a Black Box Theater that will allow for rehearsals and a performance theater. An orchestra pit will be at the front of the stage and dressing rooms and a scene shop will be available for performers. The center will be about 25,000 feet.
“Before the students had to use the bathrooms to dress,” said Marcus Wargin, the stage manager for the theater department.
Riordan said the these features will help alleviate some of the gymnasium congestion and function as a venue for the fall musical, spring competitive plays, band and choir concerts, honors nights, academic letter nights, class meetings, and various parent presentations.
The center will be built at the northwest end of the campus and replace the tennis courts. The new structure will be attached to the main building. The tennis program will get eight brand new tennis courts at the north end of campus.
Riordan said a retention pond will be built near the football field to prevent flooding. The area where construction is going to take place will also be fenced in, according to Riordan. Joseph McCurdy, the assistant principal at Oak Lawn High, said that along with the new location for the additional tennis courts, space will be provided for the shotput and discus throwing.
One resident wondered if the Oak Lawn Park District Theater Program could utilize the facility when it was available. They also asked if other organizations could use the center.
“Our thinking is Oak Lawn (High School) kids come first,” Riordan said. “Whenever we are not using it, we would be open to having other groups to use it. We would like to see it used all day and night.”
Riordan said that first phase of construction will include demolition of the north end tennis courts, the installation of a fire lane, and the installation of a water storage area.
“We have to start these projects because we have to have the tennis courts ready for the tennis season,” Riordan said.
Riordan added that the north driveway will be closed most of the summer when there are fewer students at school. The south lot will be accessible off Austin Avenue. The tennis courts should be completed by Aug. 28, Riordan added.
Also attending the meeting were Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen and trustees Alex Olejniczak (2nd) and Bud Stalker (5th). Olejniczak was in agreement that the performing arts center will be a great benefit for Oak Lawn Community High School students.
“You should all be commended for making this happen,” Olejniczak said to the high school officials. “”This is going to be a huge diamond that will be used by Oak Lawn students for years to come.”