Somerville: Immaculata H.S. Raises Curtain on Refurbished Theater

From left: Msgr. Seamus Brennan, pastor and director; Jean Kline, '69, principal; Brian Scocco, Stephen Kowalski, '92 and Alexa McCartney Ortiz '03. Credits: Courtesy Immaculata High School

SOMERVILLE, NJ -  Immaculata High School's Theater is undergoing a massive renovation that will add a new stage and seating configuration, enhanced sound and lighting, new furnishings and air conditioning/heating.

Completion is expected in the spring.

Funding for the project came through ongoing Immaculate Conception Parishʼs Capital Campaign, with the Immaculata Theater refurbishment as the showcase piece of the campaign for the high school. 

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“In essence,” said Ed Webber, chair of the school's music program which runs the Spring Musical and other theatrical events, “we took a 55-year-old facility and completely recreated it. We are thrilled that the theater will have an orchestra pit, which is rare among most high schools, allowing our musicians to have a true performance experience in musical theater.

"The stage surface will be larger, the wing area will be expanded, the lighting and sound systems will be augmented, and new seating, sound panels, carpeting, air conditioning will be added. As a department, we see so much potential with these innovative and technical improvements," he continued. "It will be a beautiful and a cutting edge performance venue for our current students, as well as our future Spartans.”

SEK Architects of Basking Ridge designed the renovations. Owner Stephen Kowalski, an alumnus from 1992, spoke of the projectʼs challenges.

“Bringing the theater up to modern standards while working within such a confined space presented a number of design aspects. The treatment of the side walls to help screen the industrial concrete block is one design feature that exemplified that challenge," he explained. "This element provides a good example of bridging the functional and artistic sides of architectural design. Being able to enter a space, particularly one that I have a long history with, imagine the changes and then witness a significant transformation is always exciting. This is my favorite part of working as an architect.”

Alexa McCartney Ortiz, a 2003 Immaculata graduate who assisted Kowalski with the design, felt they faced intriguing issues, such as successfully designing an orchestra pit that is spatially and structurally complicated, trying to coordinate the lighting, audio, structure, heating and cooling, and construction, while school is still in session.

Both Kowalski and Ortiz are enjoying the experience of working at their alma mater.

“This year will mark 25 years since I graduated from IHS," Kowalski said. "It has been particularly gratifying to play a small part in enhancing the school that laid the groundwork, particularly on the fine arts side, for my future career as an architect."

For Ortiz, who was heavily involved invthe musicals in her high school years, this project was very special to her because of her memories as a student and her ability as a professional to be involved in enhancing the facility for future generations.

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