by JASON MEREL
About $1.5 million renovations are underway to the new home of the Paderewski Symphony Orchestra Academy of Music, 5400 N. Lawler Ave., in the former First Congregational Church of Forest Glen.
The academy purchased the building in December 2019 for around $490,000 after renting a location on Milwaukee Avenue for 20 years. But the pandemic forced a change in renovation plans after the sale and the academy only recently completed the move to its new home.
ACADEMY director Barbara Bilszta said the planned 7-month renovation took almost 2 years due to the unexpected effects of the pandemic. She said the project was originally planned to cost $800,000, but it nearly doubled to $1.5 million as the supply of building materials and prices for equipment were affected by shortages in the community. Supply Chain.
The renovations included major plumbing work and basement foundation repairs. The finished basement now includes a full kitchen and meeting area for intermissions, as well as a children’s playroom for siblings waiting during a student’s lesson.
Paderewski Symphony Orchestra conductor Wojciech Niewrzol spoke proudly about the progress of the renovations.
“Not so long ago there were holes here and there, with a pile of dirt on my shoulder,” he said, indicating where the plumbing work had been carried out. “Now everything is new.”
The orchestra is named after Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who was a prominent Polish pianist and composer who became Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland at the end of World War I.
The academy has several classrooms and practice rooms for students, with dedicated rooms for piano and other stringed instruments.
Bilszta said more than 200 students have received music lessons each year since the academy was established in 2000, and three former students have completed their formal music training and returned to teach at the school.
Bilszta said the renovations represent a significant investment for the nonprofit, but said the plans were made with future students in mind.
“We wanted to build it to serve many generations very well,” she said.
The project is funded by a bank loan and donations from private donors and grants from various government cultural agencies.