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Article updated: 11/25/2013 6:42 AM

College of DuPage's renovated McAninch center almost ready

By Joshua Welge

The finishing touches are being put on a 14-month, $35 million renovation at the College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center that marks the biggest improvement project in the facility's 25-year history.

More than 1.5 million people have viewed live performances at the MAC since the "community jewel" opened in 1986, officials say, but never before has the facility undergone such a makeover.

The revitalized MAC will not officially reopen until February, but patrons can get a sneak peek during a New Year's Eve concert by the New Philharmonic, the first performance on the stage of the renovated Performance Hall.

Highlighting the official reopening will be a Feb. 6 exhibition in the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery.

The project is being funded with revenue from a 2010 referendum.

"The improvements are something that not only the students will be able to enjoy, but the entire community will be able to enjoy," said Diana Martinez, the MAC's interim executive director. "I think sometimes when you do a project that's tax-based, you tend to think it doesn't have anything to do with the community. This does."

Improvements will be evident to visitors even before entering the building. They include:

• A glass canopy extending from the drop-off area to the theater, giving a clean architectural look and protection for patrons during inclement weather.

• A radiant heating system under the concrete sidewalk.

• A white roof installed to reflect sunlight.

• New landscaping in front of the building.

Once inside, more changes will greet visitors, including a new ticket office in a more visible location to eliminate cramped lines.

In addition, there's a new concession and bar area in the lobby to provide a connection to the Waterleaf restaurant in COD's Culinary and Hospitality Center located next to the MAC.

"From the moment they step in, people will feel more comfortable," Martinez said.

Behind the building, there's a tiered patio area. Martinez envisions as many as 5,000 visitors packing it for an all-new outdoor summer program that could feature a symphony one Friday, a Beatles tribute the next and a Broadway singer on a third.

"I think we can do some really gorgeous Ravinia-type events," Martinez said. "Bring a picnic basket and wine, come here on a Friday night after work and enjoy yourself. It's a whole new experience. This opens up a whole host of new opportunities. We want this to be a social gathering place."

Heading into what used to be Theater 2, there's a new entrance "like you know you're going into a theater," she said. There are specialty walls, mimicking a curtain; new stairs, and a glass hand rail for a sophisticated look; and new carpeting and upgraded finishes providing plenty of color.

"We want to give visitors a sense of arrival," Martinez said.

Inside the 800-seat performance hall, many of the upgrades were made with the idea of enhancing visitors' acoustical experience. A new HVAC system was installed; several hard surfaces were added to allow sound to reflect back to the audience; and the stage is picture-framed with imported wood. New seating also was installed.

"If you stand in the middle and look back, it's like a picture frame now," said Steve Eskildsen, project manager for Mortenson Construction. "It really brings out the stage."

A 2,700-square-foot addition on the west side of the building has been created for the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery, where $700,000 of art work has been donated to the MAC for the first exhibit in February.

The renovations extend to the academic area for programs in areas ranging from music to art and photography.

Sound-locked rooms were installed, for example, where students can record themselves singing, playing a piano or another instrument without worry of outside noise.

A tackable wall surface for art classrooms was installed, giving students expanded space to put up their work.

The improvements continue to upgraded dressing rooms, where showers were installed -- important to bringing in dance shows. Eskildsen noted even "simple things" like extending a loading dock to provide extra storage space will help attract big shows.

"These are upgrades that the public probably won't see," Eskildsen said. "I don't know if they've ever gone through a remodel like we've done. It was due."

With the 195-seat Playhouse Theater, the 800-seat performance hall, the art gallery and the outdoor stage, Martinez is visualizing a growing demographic driving in to what she hopes is "the destination" to experience visual and performing arts in the Western suburbs.

"We are poised for that," Martinez said. "It changes it from a college academic art center to a community art center that has a little something for everybody."

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