LA GRANDE — McKenzie and Schwarz theatres abruptly went dark at Eastern Oregon University in mid-March. The theaters at the La Grande campus closed like other schools in Oregon due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The curtains of the theaters will someday rise again, and when they do, audiences will applaud outstanding student performances and what will have almost disappeared — obstacles for people who have mobility issues.
McKenzie and Schwarz theatres soon will be much easier for those with infirmities to move about in thanks to major renovation work set to start July 13.
The state-funded work will be part of a $5.5 million remodeling of Loso Hall, which houses McKenzie and Schwarz theatres. Upgrading of Loso Hall’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems also are part of this renovation.
The renovation will be among the most extensive work Loso Hall has received since it opened in 1990.
“We need to take care of the building. It is one of the key buildings on campus. It is a great educational facility,” said Tim Seydel, EOU’s vice president for university advancement.
The work at McKenzie Theatre will be perhaps the most dramatic in Loso Hall. It will include the installation of a lift on the outside of its north-central exterior. The lift will carry people with mobility issues to the top of the first tier of McKenzie Theatre’s seating, where handicapped accessible seating will be available, Seydel said.
Another McKenzie addition will be bridges leading to the stage at the two first-floor side entrances. The bridges will make it easier for people with mobility issues to get to the stage to participate in musical and theatrical performances, give presentations or receive awards.
The seating in McKenzie Theatre will be reduced from 446 to 420 to create space for the new disabled accessibility features.
, said Mike Heather, an EOU associate professor of theater. Heather said this should not be an issue because McKenzie Theatre usually is filled to capacity just twice year — for the EOU Chamber Choir Concert and the Holiday Music Festival.
“If we need to accommodate more audience (members), we can add performances,” Heather said.
The 420 seats will replace seats that have been in place since Loso Hall opened. Heather said the seats, which swing up when unoccupied, have generally held up well but now are developing mechanical problems.
At Schwarz Theatre, disabled accessibility also will get a dramatic boost with the leveling of the stage so the floor will be equal to the performance area. Presently, the Schwarz Theatre seating is higher than its stage. The leveling will make it as easy for someone with mobility issues to reach the spectator area as the acting site, Heather said.
Entering Schwarz Theatre also will be easier for those with infirmities because both its doors will open to a level floor.
Heather said the renovation work will make Schwarz Theatre 100% compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Renovation work in Schwarz Theatre also will include the addition of a motorized turntable stage. This is a controlled platform that can be rotated in order to speed up the changing of scenes during performances.
“It will be able to be moved with the push of a button,” said Heather, noting that multiple scenes can be set up on the turntable.
Schwarz Theatre also is getting three movable seat banks with railings and aisles. Directors will be able to position the seat banks wherever they like in relation to the turntable stage.
Renovation work in Schwarz and McKenzie theatres also include upgrading the sound and lighting equipment.
Heather said the anticipation is high for the projects at Loso Hall.
“Everyone from students to faculty and prospective students is excited about what will be happening,” Heather said.