Construction of new playhouse continues

Written By Robert Berger, Staff Writer

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After nearly ten years of planning, the new Point Park Pittsburgh Playhouse is slowly beginning to take shape on Forbes Avenue and Fourth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The new Playhouse is designed to be an estimated 92,000 sq. feet and is being built on a 1.6 acre site on Forbes and Fourth avenues. Crews plan to renovate an additional 50,000 square feet of the former Stock Exchange building.  Initial planning started 10 years ago when President Paul Hennigan took office with plans to grow the university.

When completed, the Playhouse will include a main theater that will seat 530 people, a 200 seat transformational theater that will open up into the courtyard and a 100 seat blackbox theater. The building will also include a prop and costume shop, a sound stage for cinema students and performance classrooms that will replicate the main stage.

Construction efforts began last winter with Pittsburgh-based masonry company Franco Associates removing and reconstructing facades on three of the Forbes Ave. buildings on site. According to Mick Nardozzi, lead estimator for Franco Associates, this is the largest terra cotta salvage and rebuild ever done in Pittsburgh. The facades will be used in the Playhouse’s courtyard.

“The extent to which we were able to salvage intact, whole pieces was pleasantly surprising,” Nardozzi said in a press release from the university.

At one point, seven different buildings stood on the location. In 2006, Point Park purchased the Stock Exchange building for $645,000 for the Playhouse project. Currently, crews are working on the restoration of stained glass skylights from the building. In order to restore them, crews removed the windows in 5 feet by 5 feet panels. One window was even recreated from scratch.

Construction cost is estimated to be $74 million, according to the university. Point Park has made $45 million so far, with $14 million coming from the university trustees and campaign leadership, $18 million from corporate gifts, $5 million from Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and $8 million from foundation gifts. The university also plans to sell the Oakland Playhouse to raise funds.

The construction is being carried out by a team of nearly 30 different construction companies. PJ Dick is in charge of the subcontracting of crews, and some of the construction as well.

Currently on the site, PJ Dick is working at laying concrete while Amthor steel is building the steel frame of the theatre. Other Pittsburgh companies involved include Wyatt Inc, who will build the interior drywall. Limbach Holdings Inc. will deliver air handling units and install the heating ducts.

According to university architect planner, Elmer Burger, Construction crews faced setbacks from the start, as they had to remove foundations of the previous buildings on the site. In order to remove these foundations, a hole with a large ramp for construction vehicle access was dug. The real challenge was the lack of space on site as the ramp had to be moved around multiple times to work on each section of the site.

“The challenge was getting out of the ground…It’s going to get a lot easier now that we’re out of the ground,” said Burger.

Space is another challenge crews are facing. With the site spanning only 1.6 acres, there is no room for construction trailers and equipment. Due to this, most of the materials needed are delivered in the morning.

Another factor that was considered before work got under way is that people will be living and working next to the site at all times. To ensure the construction is not a nuisance, crews placed vibration sensors in all of the adjacent buildings to monitor the vibrations from construction.

Originally, Point Park planned to open the theater for the fall 2017 semester, however, the date has been pushed back to open sometime in 2018.

“I really hope they finish construction for 2018, having the chance to perform in the new theater and in Downtown Pittsburgh would be amazing,” said sophomore musical theater major Jeremy Spoljarick.

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