Re-designed arts center at Richards approved

  • Written by Joe Boyle

theater  rendering 7-27

This artist rendering of the state-of-the art theater for Richards High School is scheduled to completed by August 2018.

Dr. Ty Harting, superintendent of Community High School District 218, was relieved and ecstatic after the Board voted unanimously earlier this month to approve construction bids for a new performing arts center at Richards High School in Oak Lawn.

“We’re very excited about how this facility will enhance our drama, choir, and band programs at Richards,” said Harting. “This facility also will serve as a great community resource for District 218.”

Harting was pleased with the latest vote because the issue had been left in limbo since the spring when the District 218 Board rejected the original construction bids for a new performing arts center at Richards High School, 10601 S. Central Ave. The Board cited excessive cost estimates from the contractors who submitted proposals on the project.

Groundbreaking will happen next month with completion of the project, which will cost an estimated $14 million, in August 2018.

“It has been a very long process, but I’m very excited for the students,” said Joshua Hammann, the choral director at Richards. “I’m very excited, too. This will allow us to showcase the talents of our students in drama, band and choir to the best of their abilities. We didn’t have the greatest facilities before but that is going to change. I think the students are very excited.”

The new arts center will attach to the current facility. Totaling 36,400 square feet, the addition will extend from the eastern gymnasium entrance of Richards out toward the tennis courts.

The arts center includes 28,400 square feet of new space at Richards, with an additional 8,000 square feet of remodeled space of the current facility.

Facility highlights include a new theater with 560 seats, a renovated band and choral area with six new practice rooms, teacher offices, a music library, and storage.

Mike Jacobson, who is entering his second year as the principal at Richards, shares the enthusiasm of the faculty and students about the plans for the performing arts center.

“This is very exciting,” Jacobson said. “We are having meetings every week going over the plans and the construction. Right now, papers have to be signed and other plans have to be approved. But construction is scheduled to begin in mid-August and should take over a year to complete.”

The principal said the first phase of the project will concentrate on the theater.

“Plans are still being made,” Jacobson said. “A tree has to be removed and a fence has to be built. This will be an addition to the eastern part of the building up to the tennis court. But this will be good because since this is an addition, it will not disrupt classes.”

The delay in approving plans for the performing arts center created some concerns. Construction has begun on the new performing arts center for Oak Lawn Community High School, 9400 Southwest Highway. The arts center is replacing tennis courts near 95th and Austin. The Oak Lawn High School project is also scheduled to completed by the fall of 2018.

Hammann was pleased that plans were approved at Oak Lawn High School as well. They also lacked a theater for their drama program, just like Richards. Hammann is in his fifth year at Richards. He also spent eight years as an assistant choral director at Oak Lawn High.

“I think this will be a great addition to Richards,” Hammann said. “When there is a sense that there is something new, it makes everybody feel better.”

The addition at Richards will include an auditorium house, stage, prop shop, storage, dressing rooms and lobby.

“This will be a state-of-the-art project and will not only be great for the theater program, but will be great for our choral and band programs,” said Jacobson.

“We want to point out that this performing arts center is also for the community,” added Jacobson. “I can see us running summer programs for kids and theater camps in here. We would like to talk to interested groups who would like to use the building. This is a community building. I’ve already contacted organizations.”