Austin school poised to open renovated auditorium

Catalyst Circle Rock broke ground on $4M auditorium restoration on April 19

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By Michael Romain


Community members, educators, elected officials and local civic leaders gathered at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Central Avenue on April 19 to break ground on a new 1,000-seat auditorium inside of Catalyst Circle Rock, 5608 W. Washington Blvd. 

After a $4 million restoration, the Austin school's auditorium, will feature a proscenium, a main floor, mezzanine and balcony. Construction work is scheduled to be completed this year, Catalyst officials said in a statement. 

Once the facility is complete, Catalyst's Sistema Ravinia orchestra — "the largest African-American elementary school orchestra in the nation," according to Catalyst officials — will call the auditorium home. 

"The Center will also be a gathering place for the entire Austin community, a venue for other schools and non-profit organizations, artists and performers, and a forum for individuals and groups," officials said in the statement. 

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Catalyst officials revealed that the new auditorium will be named The Kehrein Center for the Arts — in honor of Glen and Lonni Kehrein, who founded Circle Urban Ministries 45 years ago as an effort to help heal race relations in Austin. 

Gordon Hannon, the CEO of Catalyst Schools — the nonprofit charter school network that owns the Austin facility — said that there "will be nothing in the community quite like this new Center for the Arts." 

Hannon added that no "sizable professional theater spaces exist in the Austin neighborhood nor anywhere on the West Side between the Loop and O'Hare. The West Side is rich in talent but under-resourced with respect to performance venues. I'm thrilled that Austin residents will be able to enjoy the arts right here, in their own backyard." 

Catalyst officials said that the school still needs to raise another $1.8 million in order for the remaining work to be completed. 

Steve Saunders, principal of Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, said that the number is a drop in the bucket compared to what it would cost to build an equivalent auditorium from scratch today — between $35 and $40 million, he estimated. 

"It is a rare opportunity to restore and revitalize a valuable community asset and reenergize this long dormant treasure," Saunders said in a statement. 

The renovation project has the blessing of numerous local elected officials, including state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th). 

Ford said in a statement that "the completion of this project would be an enormous boost and anchor in our Austin neighborhood." 

Lightford added that the "unique music and fine arts space presents a critical area to engage our children in the field of the Arts as well as continue to emphasize your values of reverence and respect."


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