There's nothing quite like attempting to watch your son or daughter perform Shakespeare from a crowded hallway outside the theater.
Just ask the various parents who have done so because Lancaster Country Day School’s current venue doesn’t have enough seating, according to head of school Steve Lisk.
“Programmatically, we are bursting at the seams,” Lisk said.
That’s why Lancaster Country Day is seeking to raise $13 million for a $15 million theater that Lisk says will enhance the school’s arts programming and strengthen its bond with the surrounding Lancaster community.
The proposed 580-seat, 17,844-square-foot Gardner Theatre — named after late Lancaster Country Day graduate and successful entrepreneur Eugene Gardner Sr., whose family pledged to donate $5 million for the project — will have features you’d expect in a multimillion dollar, state of the art venue: a large stage, orchestra pit, high-quality lighting and acoustics and a fly, or theatrical rigging, system.
It’ll also have a second-floor mezzanine.
Just 100 seats smaller than the Lancaster’s Fulton Theatre, the new facility will trump the size of Millersville University’s The Ware Center and Franklin & Marshall College’s Barshinger Center, Lisk said.
It’ll replace the school’s Steinman Theatre, built in 1971, which seats 270 — Lancaster Country Day has about 600 students — and offers limited stage space, Lisk said.
Nearly $11 million has been pledged so far, led by the Gardner family’s donation.
The school planned to approach the Elizabethtown Industrial Development Authority Friday for tax-free financing to pay for bills associated with the project. Lisk said this will help the school move forward as donations can take up to five years to come in. A representative of the authority did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The project is included in the second phase of the Lancaster Country Day’s campus master plan, implemented in 2011. The phases outlined in the plan relate to athletics, arts and academics, Lisk said. The school recently completed a $10 million, 28,000-square-foot athletic center, for which the Gardner family also contributed the lead gift.
“This is a facility that Gene Gardner was enthusiastic about, one he hoped could be part of the LCDS campus,” Anne Gardner, Eugene’s wife, said in an email through Lancaster Country Day’s spokesperson. “Part of that hope is that he also saw a professional performing arts space as being a real asset to the community of Lancaster, where he spent his whole life and that he loved very much.”
Lisk described the Gardner family as a “generous and enlightened” supporter who understands the school’s vision.
“This is a tremendously significant upgrade for us and one that was long awaited,” Lisk said, emphasizing the need for an improved performing arts space to fulfill the school’s mission to develop the “whole child.”
The community, too, should benefit from guest speakers and performances now that the school will have a more appropriate venue to host them, Lisk said.
The school will ceremonially break ground on Tuesday. December 2020 is the expected completion date.