Blythe Park School, 735 Leesley Rd., Riverside (FILE)

It looks as if the auditorium at Blythe Park School in Riverside will be transformed into two classroom spaces in 2023. 

Last week, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education reviewed a conceptual plan to divide the elementary school’s lower level auditorium into two rooms, divided by some type of movable wall. 

One room would be used as an art classroom while the other would be used for music classes. The revamped space would also include some sort of performance space in the music room, although the stage in the current auditorium probably would not remain.

“Whether that’s movable or permanent, I think is still being resolved,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said of the performance space. “That stage takes up a lot of space. We want it to still have some kind of stage possibility.”

Architects provided a schematic floor plan of their plans at the school board’s March 16 meeting. They estimated that the cost of renovating 4,068-square-feet of the school would be about $2.1 million, which would also include replacing the school’s boiler.

The preferred plan for the Blythe Park School renovation project appears to be converting the lower-level auditorium space (above at right) into separate spaces for art and music, divided by a moveable wall, potentially allowing space for future performances. (Provided)

“We’re not a full drawn-out design process yet,” Ryan-Toye said. “It’s still an estimate.”

The district does not plan to do any work at Blythe Park School until the summer of 2023 and detailed plans have yet to be approved.

But district officials have decided to focus on repurposing the auditorium instead of building another addition to the school. An addition would likely cost more than $3 million and would require approval from the Riverside Preservation Commission because Blythe Park School, which was built in 1948 and is considered a masterpiece of mid-20th century school architecture, is designated a local landmark. 

The plan to repurpose the auditorium would only need village approval to add windows to allow natural light to flow into the subterranean space.

The design to repurpose the auditorium was created after architects and school officials met with school staff and the Blythe Park PTA, and held two visioning sessions for community members.

“It was quite a full month of discussions and meetings,” said Ryan Kelley of the DLA Architects.

District officials say that they need to create more classroom space at Blythe Park School as the school transitions into having two sections of each grade. The repurposed auditorium space would house an art room in the upper part of the space and a music room in the lower end. Students would continue to eat lunch in the school’s gym.

“This makes it suitable for a two-section school,” said school board member Joel Marhoul, who chairs the school board’s facilities advisory committee.

In the past, plans to eliminate the school’s auditorium have met with opposition from some in the community.

“People do have a sentimental attachment to the auditorium the way it is set up right now,” said school board President Dan Hunt.

But board member David Barsotti said the building must change to meet to current needs.

“We need to respect the history, but we need to bring it up to the 21st century,” Barsotti said. “It’s not 1950.”