Workers renovating the former South High School auditorium into what will be the John Legend Theater at the Springfield Center of Innovation: The Dome, have uncovered some unique architectural features long covered up by previous projects.

Architectural gems uncovered during South High auditorium work

Workers are discovering unique features covered up by previous projects.

From old pictures of the 1909 auditorium, the team knew there had been large windows, said Project Manger Paul Szymanski, but they assumed the glass and frames had been removed decades ago when the windows were bricked over.

One of the windows was still there when they took down the drywall covering it. The team plans to leave the window in place, possibly putting a new wall up to preserve it and painting a mural over the top.

They also discovered an arched ceiling under the balcony that had been covered during the last renovation in the 1980s.

The ongoing renovation is the latest upgrade at the 107-year-old school that now houses the Global Impact STEM Academy, several Clark State Community College labs and the Greater Springfield CareerConnectED Center. Those projects were paid for mostly with state grants, but the auditorium face-lift is being funded by private donations with matching funds from Springfield City School District.

District graduate and Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy winning artist John Legend gave $500,000 for the project and other donors including Speedway, Security National Bank, the Turner Foundation, and the Springfield Foundation have brought the total funds raised to about $900,000.

The $2.5 million project is expected to be completed by Sept. 1, according to Kim Fish, communications consultant for Springfield City School District and a leader on the project.

There was some debate, Fish said, about whether the auditorium should be designed with a modern or historic feel.

“The whole inside of the building is modern, its all about new tech in this old shell,” she said. “But we really felt like this is a historic building… lets go back to its roots.”

The seats and decor, including chandeliers, will evoke the original design of the auditorium when it first opened.

The 400-seat main floor will be open for events next school year, Szymanski said, offering a space for performances the district doesn’t currently have because the new high school was built with only a cafetorium under state funding guidelines.

The 300-seat balcony will be complete but access will be blocked for the first year because GISA will be completing its expansion in the rotunda part of the building adjacent to the balcony.

“In the fall, everything will be finished, but only that first floor will be usable that first year as construction happens up here,” Szymanski said.

The district is hiring a Theater Manager to oversee the technical and operations management of the new venue. The job is posted through May 9 and is accessible by going to the employment tab at Questions can be directed to Deb Dasher or 937-505-2820.

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