Buffalo Grove Park District plans performing arts center

Buffalo Grove has long talked about creating a performing arts center.

The park district has held many of its performing arts programs at the Alcott Center on Bernard Drive where its administrative offices are held, while staging its shows at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

Now, the park district has contracted to buy the Congregation Beth Am property at 225 McHenry Road for redevelopment as a community performing arts center. The property, which currently houses the congregation and the Torah Academy school, was on the market and caught the park district’s eye.

Congregation Beth Am would remain in the facility and would continue to use it for services, classes and other programs through June 30, when the park district would begin renovating it. The park district also would make the sanctuary available for the 2013 high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur while working on the rest of the building.

Officials with the school said that they plan to use the coming year to look for a new location. Officials with the congregation couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on their plans. However, in a newsletter that was posted online, Rabbi Lisa Sari Bellows of Beth Am said the congregation was not able to afford the building anymore and needed to move to a new location.

Bellows wrote: “We find ourselves with the demographics not in our favor, the economy not in our favor and we live in an era in which more than 40 percent of liberal Jewish families choose not to affiliate with a congegration.”

Park district representatives presented the proposal to the village board earlier this week, and it was referred to the plan commission for review. The park district is asking for a special use permit for a facility that would include a 400-500 seat auditorium/theater, three-to-four dance studios, classrooms, a fine arts center and multipurpose rooms.

Park District Executive Director Dan Schimmel said the district has only completed conceptual plans for the facility, which ultimately could also house full-time park district staff that is at the Alcott Center and a volunteer organization the district plans to start to support performances.

“We expect to move all of our dance programs and performing arts performances to that facility over the next few years,” he said.

Ted Haug of Legat Architects said there is a plan to expand parking adjacent to the site.

Village President Jeffrey Braiman said the Beth Am property would appear to be more centrally located for the district’s administrative offices, which currently are in a residential area.

Schimmel said the park district will look at that.

“We do have a lot of full-time staff that are working out of Alcott, and I think about five of those staff at least will move out,” he said, reducing the need for parking at Alcott.

Haug said there would be changes to the exterior of the building to reflect its use as a performing arts center. The park district hopes to make a presentation to the board by early to mid September after doing more work on plans, he said.

“One of the reasons it is on a fast track is our purchase contract says that we have to basically complete our due diligence within a 45-day period. That began about two weeks ago,” Schimmel said.

Although due diligence includes zoning approval, he assured Braiman that the park district is not expecting approval within that time frame, but looking for a show of support.

Trustee Jeffrey Berman mentioned there was some concern about whether exterior structures that provided buffer to residential areas would remain. Schimmel said they would.

Berman said: “It looks like it’s a win-win for the congregation, who needs to make a change, and an opportunity for the park district to create an amenity for the community that we have been talking about for a long time.”

Daily Herald staff writer Maria Denecke contributed to this report

  The Buffalo Grove Park District plans to buy Congregation Beth Am’s building and convert it into a performing arts center. Bill Zars/
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