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Public, free hard hat tours of renovation project at Egyptian Theatre start Tuesday

DeKALB –­ The show must go on, Egyptian Theatre staff members said while they make the most of the balancing act of an ongoing $5.5 million construction project in the middle of their 2019-20 season.

Beginning Tuesday, they’ll offer a weekly up-close-and-personal free tour for members of the public to view the renovation work. Hard Hat Tours will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Dec. 17 every Tuesday.

No need to call ahead, said Jeanine Holcomb, marketing and communications director for the theater.

“We tell people you’re experiencing the Egyptian in a way that hasn’t been seen in 90 years,” Holcomb said Thursday. “So you get to experience an active construction site and an active theater with us. So the hard hat tours just made sense.”

Executive Director Alex Nerad said he gets on the stage before every show to fill the audience in on the latest construction updates and timeline.

Visitors on the tours will have a chance to ask questions, walk throughout the mezzanine, first and ground level floors, view the exterior addition which will house the air conditioning system and maybe get a sneak peek at the basement, which houses four 50-ton air handling units.

Despite a late start before the city agreed to contribute $2.5 million in tax increment finance funds for the project, Nerad said theater-goers are taking any inconvenience in stride.

“So far we’ve had, knock on wood, zero complaints because people are really excited to see the progress,” Nerad said. “I still find it hilarious I almost get standing ovations at every show when I talk about how we’re putting in more women’s restrooms. I’ve never seen people so excited about bathrooms.”

The renovation team ­ which consists of Irving Construction Company Inc., Sharpe Architects Inc. and DeKalb Mechanical Inc. ­ broke ground May 1.

Palmer Court, the alley in between the Egyptian and Hillside Restaurant along North Second Street was blocked off for the summer, as the two-story addition went up.

“Our hope at this point is to have the first floor done and open by early February and then the second floor finishing up throughout the spring,” Nerad said. “We’re already talking with agents starting to book some different things for next summer knowing it will be our first summer open.”

Engineering crews took inspiration from other theaters on how to retrofit the air conditioning into the stage area.

“The biggest issues are when you think about when we have curtains down, when the A/C kicks on now all of a sudden your set pieces and curtains start waving,” Nerad said. “Or if you think about fog or haze effects – you kick that on, all the fog dissipates.”

To combat that, Nerad said they worked with the theater and engineering department from Northern Illinois University along with their own crew from DeKalb Mechanical to make sure the system was high volume, low velocity, meaning the air comes through the duct work with as little pressure as possible.

The hard hat tours also are part of the final fundraising step for the $5.5 million campaign, Nerad said. Including the TIF funds and $1.5 million raised in private donations, the team has raised more than $4 million, with about $1.5 million still needed. The tours are meant to inform and inspire the public to invest in the project, Nerad said.

“It sounds corny and cliché, but this really is a testament to the community,” Nerad said. “It’s the community that saved this building from the wrecking ball in 1978 and it’s the community that stepped up and restored it in the early ’80s. And it’s been the community that has supported it through all of these decades.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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