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Lucky Kids, Lucky Teachers, Lucky Community

January 13, 2012 - Phyllis Sigal
"Wow!" "Amazing!" "Awesome!" "Oh my goodness!" "Fantastic!" "Unbelievable!"

Those are just some of the words spouted during a walk-through at the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School.

It's beautiful already, and it's not even completed. But it will be soon, said Dianna Vargo, deputy superintendent of Ohio County Schools, who, along with Clerk of the Works Carson Cox, led the group for yesterday's tour.

"Substantial completion" is set for the end of the month, she said — and noted that is an "architectural term." Dianna said that, tentatively, lights and sound will be completed in February, with an open house set for sometime in March and a grand opening to be held at the end of March. They expect that the high school's spring musical will be performed there, too.

I can't wait! I can't wait to see a performance in this wonderful, new space.

Standing on the stage — which is HUGE at 95 feet by 40 feet, with about another 10-15 feet that juts out beyond the proscenium — you can have a conversation with someone at the back of the balcony in your normal voice. The sound is that good.

"The acoustics should be fantastic," Carson said, thanks to the acoustic tiles on the walls and the curtains placed on the upper level. 

"There are so many neat things here," Carson said, pointing to the computerized rigging, the carpeted walkways, the shell that comes down and pivots or rotates on its axis.

And all I could think about was the lucky, lucky, lucky kids who get to use this beautiful facility.

It's a real theater. With a large set shop. With restrooms — on each floor, with almost double the stalls for women than men! With a ticket booth. With a beautiful lobby, where student artwork will be displayed. With comfortable seats. With air conditioning and heating — a huge improvement over the gymnasium that has been used in the past for various programs. With an elevator and handicapped access to all three levels of seating. With dressing rooms that will have full-length mirrors and counters.

I remember when my kids were involved in music and theater up at Park, they dressed in the bathrooms for their productions, and put their make-up on in the back hallway. 

Also, it's very easy for the students to use the new facility during the day — it connects to the high school. It will serve as a classroom, Dianna said.

"The Phyllis A. Beneke theater is wonderful, also," Dianna pointed out, and it still will be used as a small venue when needed. "We utilize every room in this building. No matter which day it is, every room is in use," she said. 

However, the sound and lighting in the new performing arts center will be more state-of-the-art than what is available in the Beneke theater. And of course, the size — there are about 1,200 seats in the new center compared to around 400 in the smaller one.

Another benefit is that music teachers Pat Garrett (band) and Ben Podolski (strings) as well as Jeff Higgins, (electronics technology) all had their hand in the process. Dianna said the contractors met with them to hear their ideas, "and they listened," she said.

This entire facility will be great for the students, for the teachers and for the community, Dianna said. 

I certainly agree. Lucky kids, lucky teachers, lucky us.

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