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They're digging in for performing arts center at Richards High School

  • Written by Joe Boyle

ty harting and sandra buy photo 8-31

Photo by Joe Boyle

Dr. Ty Harting, superintendent of District 218, chats with Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury after the groundbreaking ceremony last Thursday for the performing arts center at Richards High School.

After a four-year struggle, the first phase of the construction for the performing arts center at Richards High School in Oak Lawn has become a reality.

The groundbreaking ceremony took place last Thursday on the grounds of Richards High School, 10601 S. Central Ave. District 218 officials, faculty, students, parents and local leaders were in attendance. Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) also attended the event.

Members of the Richards High School band performed during the ceremony. Richards students from the choral and theater programs also attended the event.

“I want to thank all of the (District 218) board members for voting for the performing arts center,” said Dr. Ty Harting, superintendent of School District 218. “I want to thank the current board members and former board members who also supported this project.”

Thomas Kosowski, the District 218 board president, said the board voted down a proposal for a performing arts center during the spring. The board cited excessive cost estimates from the contractors who submitted proposals on the project.

The board then went back and worked out the details to make the sure the project went ahead. The project was scaled back and a compromise was reached.

“The process was very lengthy,” said Kosowski. “We have been talking about this for four years. We went back to the drawing board and cut some costs. We were able to do that.”

Costs had escalated to nearly $26 million and the District 218 Board worked to reduce those finances. The current project figures are now at $14 million. Bulley & Andrews Construction, along with DLA Ltd. Architects, will be working on the performing arts center. The arts center will be attached to the current facility. Totaling 36,400 square feet, the addition will extend from the eastern gymnasium entrance of Richards toward the tennis courts.

The arts center will include 28,400 square feet of new space at Richards, with an additional 8,000 square feet of remodeled space to be included. The 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.

Construction is expected to continue through the fall. Harting said that depending on the weather, the project should be completed in August, 2018, in time for the 2018-19 school year.

Kosowski also applauded other schools, parents and students who also wanted this project completed. District 218 covers seven sub-districts and several high schools. District 218 extends as far east as Halsted Street and as far west as Harlem Avenue, and from 95th Street north to 143rd Street south. Kosowski said that some of these taxpayers will not benefit, at least initially, from the performing arts center at Richards. District 218 also includes Eisenhower and Shepard high schools.

“Some of these people could have complained that we should have built this at their high school,” Kosowski said. “They knew how important this was. We are very grateful to them.”

Harting agreed that the District 218 community really stepped up to see this project happen.

“I want to thank the community,” Harting said. “The community was very passionate about this project. These things matter, they really do.”

Bury, who studied art in high school, believes this project will be a great addition to Richards High School. A performing arts center is also currently being built at Oak Lawn Community High School, which is also scheduled to be completed by next fall.

“The kids really need this. I’m very happy for the kids,” Bury said. “This is a great day for Oak Lawn. If more kids entered the arts I think there would be less violence in the world. This allows them to articulate their thoughts and grow. This will help prepare them for the future.”