School Raises the Curtain On Peforming Arts Center

WHEELING – Ohio County Schools offered a first look at the recently completed J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center on the Wheeling Park High School campus Friday.

Wheeling Park senior Henry Loh played piano on the basketball court-sized stage while people walked through the main seating areas, mezzanine and two galleries. The $10 million center includes a 30- by 50-foot set shop and multiple dressing rooms backstage.

“We’re all very excited,” Ohio County Schools Superintendent George Krelis said. “I think it’s a beautiful structure that will add a lot to our community.”

Krelis said there are few, if any, high school theaters in the tri-state area that compare to the 1,200-seat facility. The building features state-of-the art technology with more than 350 computerized lighting circuits and rigging for the stage and curtain that are operated by touch-screen computer.

“This is a remarkable project that offers a great opportunity for the schools, but also for the community, to have a state-of-the-art modern facility,” Krelis said.

Other agencies have already expressed interest in renting the center for performances. School system officials are open to that idea, but they noted Ohio County Schools students will be given first priority.

More than 100 workers installed nearly 100 miles of wiring in the building and poured almost 1,000 yards of concrete.

Ohio County Schools Facility Director Jeff Turner said the design process included plans to create the best possible acoustic environment for performers. The design allows a middle school student’s voice to reach the farthest seat without that student straining, he said.

Ohio County Board of Education President Erik Schramm said he and his fellow board members consider the performing arts center “a gift to our community and to our region to support our children, but also to look to the future of the arts in this region.”

“I think that everybody that has been in this facility has been extremely pleased and impressed,” he added.

A grand opening and dedication ceremony has been scheduled for April 10. While Krelis said details of that event are still being finalized, it will feature student performances, and officials from throughout the state are expected to receive invitations.

The construction period was marked by multiple completion date changes. A rainy spring season hindered work last year before the discovery of Pyritic shale on the construction site caused a major delay.

Architects from McKinley & Associates designed the facility, and JD&E was contracted for construction. Professionals from Indianapolis, New York and Texas worked on the theatrical aspects.