On August 6, the Old Town School of Folk Music will break ground on a new building at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. From 6 – 8 p.m. there will be free outdoor activities at the site, including Brazilian dance, a jam for stringed instruments, a group sing-along led by the Old Town School guitar faculty, and a drum circle. (Meanwhile, across the street at the current building the First Friday Open House will continue as per usual.)
The new “green” facility, which meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards was designed by VOA Associates, Inc. The architectural firm’s credits include the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, and Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage.
The School’s Board of Directors worked with a group of civic and artistic leaders to plan the facility, but according to Executive Director Bau Graves, “Practically the entire staff of the Old Town School has been involved in the process of figuring out what kind of space we want, how it should be designed, and [how] to optimize its use for our student body and concertgoers.”
In addition to offering 16 new classrooms and three dance studios with sprung floors, the new facility will include a 2,100 sq. foot flex-use performance space that can be converted into a dance hall. “Right now our concert hall is a great listening room, but if you’ve got a salsa band or a zydeco band, it’s not really suitable for social dancing,” Graves said. “The new room will be, and it will be set up explicitly for dance parties.”
He said one of the most exciting features of the new building is that it’s acoustically engineered and thus will be able to accommodate the School’s louder classes. The current building was once a library, so it wasn’t expressly designed to minimize “sound bleed.”
“Now the rock ‘n’ roll classes and the taiko drummers and the Irish step dancers won’t drive everyone in the next room insane,” he said.
Whereas the current building poses space constraints, the new facility will allow the Old Town School to expand programming and serve more students. The School hopes to serve an 4,800 students within five years of opening in fall 2011.
The Old Town School of Folk Music has raised close to $7.5 million of the $18 million needed for the expansion project, in addition to a variety of in-kind donations of materials. When the $7.5 mark is reached, the School will receive a $250,000 challenge grant from the Harris Foundation.