Public, free hard hat tours of renovation project at Egyptian Theatre start Tuesday

1 of 5

DeKALB ­ The show must go on, say staff at the historic Egyptian Theatre as they make the most of the balancing act that is an ongoing $5.5 million construction project occuring in the middle of their 2019-2020 season.

Beginning Tuesday, they'll offer a weekly up-close-and-personal free tour for members of the public to view the renovation work. Hard Hat Tours will begin Oct. 15 through Dec. 17 every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. No need to call ahead, said JeanineHolcomb, marketing and communications director for the theater.

"We tell people you're experiencing the Egyptian in a way that hast been seen in 90 years," Holcomb said Thursday. "So you get to experience an active construction site and an active theatre with us. So the hard hat tours just made sense."

Executive director Alex Nerad said he gets on the stage before every show to fill the audience in on the latest construction updates and timeline. On the tours, people will have a chance to ask questions, walk throughout the mezzanine, first, and ground level floors, view the exterior addition which will house the air conditioning system and maybe even get a sneak peek at the basement, which houses four 50-ton air handling units.

Despite a late start prior to the city agreeing to contribute $2.5 million in tax increment finance funds for the project, Nerad said theater-goers are taking any inconvenience in stride.

"So far we've had, knock on wood, zero complaints because people are really excited to see the progress," he said. "I still find it hilarious I almost get standing ovations at every show when I talk about how we're putting in more women's restrooms. I've never seen people so excited about bathrooms."

The renovation team ­ which consists of Irving Construction Company, Inc., Sharp Architects, Inc. and DeKalb Mechanical, Inc. ­ broke ground May 1. Palmer Court, the alley in between the Egyptian and Hillside Restaurant along North Second Street has been roped off for the whole summer, as the two-story addition goes up.

"Our hope at this point is to have the first floor done and open by early February and then the second floor finishing up throughout the spring," Nerad said. "We're already taking with agents starting to book some different things for next summer knowing it will be our first summer open."

Engineering crews took best practices from other theaters about how to best retrofit the A/C into the stage area.

"The biggest issues are when you think about when we have curtains down, when the A/C kicks on now all of a sudden your set pieces and curtains start waving," Nerad said. "Or if you think about fog or haze effects, you kick that on all the fog dissipates."

To combat that, Nerad said they worked with the theater and engineering department from Northern Illinois University along with their own crew from DeKalb Mechanical to make sure the system was high volume, low velocity, meaning the air comes through the duct work with as little pressure as possible.

The hard had tours are also part of the final fundraising step for the $5.5 million campaign, Nerad said. Including the TIF funds and $1.5 million raised thus far in private donations, the team has raised just over $4 million, with just shy of $1.5 left to go. The tours are meant to inform but also inspire the public to invest in the project, Nerad said.

"It sounds corny and cliche but this really is a testament to the community," Nerad said. "It's the community that saved this building from the wrecking ball in 1978 and it's the community that stepped up and restored it in the early '80s. And it's been the community that has supported it through all of these decades."