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LT debates spending big to silence Reber Center noise

Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 4:21 p.m. CST
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(Alex Ruppenthal - aruppenthal@shawmedia.com)
Renovation plans for Lyons Township High School's North Campus include a redesigned cafeteria with rows of windows opening to the adjacent courtyard that would let in much-needed natural light, school officials said.

LA GRANGE – When theater groups at Lyons Township High School want to film their performances, they ditch their normal home – the school's Reber Center – for an off-site location to escape a constant whooshing noise that affects acoustics.

The ever-present hum caused by an air-handling unit in the school's auditorium was a main discussion point Tuesday when the school's board met with DLA Architects to discuss plans for a roughly $20 million renovation involving both campuses that is scheduled to start next summer.

Before backing $850,000 in air system improvements that the architects say would eliminate the noise, Board President Mark Pera wanted to hear the sound for himself. So after their meeting, board members and the architects took a short field trip to the Reber Center, where they listened to the noise that theater members say prevents their voices from projecting like they should. 

"Anybody that uses that facility, the number one concern was improving the acoustics and the volume so that the performances are more true to what the kids are doing," DLA Architects CEO Dwain Lutzow said.

Instead of replacing the unit altogether, which DLA Architects is recommending, the school could decide to fix the current unit for about $300,000-$400,000 – less than half of the projected $850,000 for replacing the unit, a figure that also includes duct work to eliminate a secondary noise caused by a dimming device.

DLA's plan calls for a total of $3.7 million in upgrades to the Reber Center, including removal of the front part of the stage to make room for an orchestra pit.

The board didn't make a decision on the scope of changes to the Reber Center but did give the architects firm direction for the most expensive piece of the renovation plan – redoing the North Campus' dungeon-like cafeteria. 

The improved cafeteria will feature a new wall of windows to the adjacent courtyard, letting in much-needed natural light. Renovations will also update the kitchen and unify the cafeteria's three existing rooms that are disjointed by a number of walls. 

But the board turned down two other proposals it deemed unnecessary: a curved wall expanding the cafeteria into the courtyard that would have added 75 additional seats; and a mezzanine level above the cafeteria that would have included group study space and possibly a classroom. The decisions dropped the cost of the cafeteria upgrades to about $5.3 million from $6.1 million.

Construction on the cafeteria will force students to eat lunch elsewhere for about a semester, possibly in the Vaughan Building across the street, Superintendent Tim Kilrea said. The administration has not discussed letting students leave campus for lunch as an option. During construction, the school will have to cater meals for students wishing to buy their lunch.

Plans also include a reconfigured entrance at South Campus that would force visitors to pass through the main office as a security measure. The board is behind the change but noted that North Campus will not receive the same upgrade, which would be more difficult there because the administration's offices are on the second floor, Kilrea said. The school has talked with La Grange Police about having a liaison office at North Campus full-time. 

About every 10 years, the school is able to use bonds to fund significant renovations like the ones under consideration. The board will vote on a resolution of intent to issue the bonds at its August 19 meeting and will hold a public hearing on the issuance of the bonds Sept. 16. 

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