The largest professional theater company in Chicago devoted exclusively to children and young families opened its new space Jan. 17 inside a former police station. All photos by Thornton Tomasetti.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony last week marked the opening of the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s first permanent location. Thornton Tomasetti collaborated with Wheeler Kearns Architects on an adaptive reuse of an abandoned Chicago Police Department station in the city’s West Loop neighborhood to create the new theater. The project, which took approximately three years to complete, ended the company’s 12-year search for a home.
A new elevator bank (left) was added to the 1940s structure and the brick exterior was restored.
Thornton Tomasetti’s Renewal practice performed a façade and existing structure condition assessment of the two-story, 20,000-square-foot station constructed in the late 1940s. The building’s floor structure is composed of cast-in-place concrete, with each elevated level framed out by one-way concrete pan joists that frame into beams and into interior and exterior masonry bearing walls. The solid brick masonry bearing walls are supported on cast-in-place concrete foundation walls and strip footings.
The old booking room has been turned into a reception area. The original concrete joists are visible in the ceiling.
The space that previously held jail cells now features a 149-seat flexible black box theater, made possible by the large, column-free space. The basement, once a gun range, is now a costume shop. The building also boasts new administrative offices, five classrooms on the second floor and parking. A one-story garage structure was removed as part of the renovation. Currently in the schematic design phase, a 299-seat main stage will open in three years on the site of the parking lot.
We were on site during the initial stages of the project to document the building’s exterior and interior, which had deteriorated badly due to lack of continued climate control. Furniture, paperwork and many other items were left behind.
The structural scope of work included evaluating and reinforcing existing floors for the change in occupancy loads; accommodating hanging loads for theater rigging and new MEP (including new sump pits and ejectors, which undermined the existing foundation); creating new openings through existing walls; a new entry vestibule and elevator tower. We also performed a due diligence examination of the building enclosure and recommended repairs.
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