Photo by Joe Boyle
Randy Heuser, vice president of School District 218, prepares to cut the ribbon for the new Performing Arts Center at Richards High School on Monday night. He is joined by (from left) Thomas Kosowski, president of School District 218; Carol Kats, board secretary; and board members Cindy Bartczak and Robert Stokas.
By Joe Boyle
Dr. Ty Harting, superintendent of School District 218, said during opening remarks before the unveiling of the Performing Arts Center at Richards High School in Oak Lawn that the state-of-art facility was a community effort.
“When you build a $15 million theater it is not just one person,” Harting told a large group of students, parents, teachers and district officials Monday night. “This is about the community who wanted this done. We have a great athletic program here. Gary Korhonen (the legendary football coach at Richards) had the most wins at one time of any high school coach in Illinois. Dwyane Wade played basketball right here at Richards and went on to play in the NBA. But we also have a great arts program and (the community) decided to invest in the arts. We think that is equally important.”
After Randy Heuser, vice president of School District 218, cut the ceremonial ribbon, the crowed filtered in to the theater to see the 3,270-square-foot stage that has a ceiling 40 feet high. This was not lost on present and former speech and theater students who recalled with some amusement of how they somehow managed to perform in the cramped Little Theater.
Members of the theater program performed a brief skit at the grand opening comparing the new theater to the dilapidated conditions of the Little Theater. The message provided in the skit was that while the Little Theater had become dated, the theater program still turned in great performances there and that great memories also await the program in the new facility.
“This is dedicated to the arts,” Harting said. “And having an arts program is important. It can make us laugh and can make us cry. But it’s also important for the kids. It helps develop their minds.”
The new theater will include dressing rooms, a catwalk and improved lighting, district officials said. The sound is also vastly improved. The band and choir will also have updated rehearsal rooms. New storage space is available, along with a prop room. The facility was completed at the end of August, which was the scheduled completion date. The arts center was paid for through construction and allotted cash funds.
Residents also got an opportunity to tour the theater, which seats 560. Michael Jacobson, principal at Richards, said the new theater is a gift for the students and the community. Jacobson, who once taught English and was formerly the speech coach at Shepard High School, said the Arts Center will be well served not only by the school but will be open to other community organizations who would like to use it.
Jacobson also praised the former drama director Chuck Palia, who has since retired, for his contributions to the Richards arts program over the years. Palia said that while the Little Theater had its limitations, great memories were shared there along with outstanding performances.
“The Little Theater was actually a projection room,” Palia said. “But with this new theater, we want to make this a home. We want to make memories here. And even if you are no longer going to school here or parents no longer have children here, come back to see the plays and musicals.”
Mike Badger, an English teacher and current drama coach marveled at the new computerized system with touch screens. He said this will also serve as a great learning experience for speech and drama students.
The U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps presented the colors during the grand opening presentation. Performances were also given by the school band and color guard. The honors choir also performed at the grand opening.
This will not be the only facility opening up in Oak Lawn this fall. Another state-of-the-art performing arts center will open in late October at Oak Lawn Community High School. The center will have new amenities and a 100-by-36-foot stage and seating for 630.