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South Orange/Maplewood — Education Top Stories

Columbia High School Stages a Renovation

Daniel Zona

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 • 9:01am

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The news sweeping the halls of Columbia High School by storm is that of the newly renovated auditorium. Sporting new floors, lights, chairs, a stage, upgrades to the stage crew equipment, and the repair of the long forgotten--but much beloved--pipe organ, it can now match the musical, theatrical, technical, and artistic prowess for which CHS has become known.

Among the renovations is a new air-conditioning and heating unit. Carter Woodiel, a senior and Excelsior Chamber Choir member, said, “The air conditioning for me is the biggest upgrade. When you look at the auditorium as a whole, it’s not as shocking a difference as you might expect when you walk in seeing as the whole thing’s new, but the longer you stay in it the more you realize that it is new.”

This sentiment isn’t echoed by every CHS student however. Aileen Sartori, a violinist and the assistant stage manager in the stage crew, is more in touch with the auditorium and is not entirely happy. “The floor is made from soft pine,” she said, “which scratches very easily.  Also since a sealant was never applied, when we drove the Genie through (a hydraulic lift) the floor cracked slightly.”

The Achieve Foundation of Maplewood and South Orange, a charitable organization dedicated to acts of philanthropy in the South Orange/Maplewood School District, headed this enormous task. Christine Ebersole, a Tony Award-winning actress and district parent, led the charge by chairing the committee to fix the decrepit auditorium. The district had set aside $1 million for the basic renovations and Achieve set up numerous fundraisers for $350,000 still needed to complete this new monument to the arts. 

The results were overwhelming, as the goal was easily passed with a whopping $400,000. Fred Profeta, formerly mayor of Maplewood, was instrumental in the fundraising process by donating $150,000 to the cause.  The majority of the rest of the money came from the Take a Seat campaign in which people could donate money and have a personalized plaque with their name and/or a personalized message on the tops of the new chairs.

The auditorium was created in 1927 when the school was first renovated and has stood much the same since then.  It is the largest school auditorium in Essex County and it’s been on its last legs for quite some time now.   Just a few of the numerous CHS grads who went on to fame include Frank Langella, Roy Scheider, Zach Braff, Andrew and Elizabeth Shue, Lauryn Hill, and Max Weinberg of the E Street Band.

The Achieve Foundation is hosting the “Curtain Up!” unveiling on Wednesday, April 9. The restored auditorium will be revealed and the evening will feature a showcase of the South Orange-Maplewood school district's K-12 student singers, dancers and musicians. Get more information or register here

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