Paderewski Academy of Music relocates to former church in Forest Glen
by JASON MEREL
About $1.5 million in renovations is underway at the new home of the Academy of Music of the Paderewski Symphony Orchestra, 5400 N. Lawler Ave., in the former First Congregational Church of Forest Glen.
The academy bought the building in December of 2019 for about $490,000 after renting a location on Milwaukee Avenue for 20 years. But the pandemic forced a change to renovation plans following the sale and the academy only recently completed the move to its new home.
ACADEMY director Barbara Bilszta said the anticipated 7-month renovation took nearly 2 years due to the unexpected effects of the pandemic. She said the originally anticipated project would cost $800,000 but nearly doubled to $1.5 million as building material supply and equipment prices were impacted by supply chain shortages.
Renovations included major plumbing work and foundation repairs in the basement. The finished basement now boasts 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 discussed the progress of renovations with pride.
“It wasn’t long ago that there were holes here and here, with a pile of dirt to my shoulder,” he said, pointing out where the plumbing work was done. “Now everything is new.”
The orchestra is named after Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who was a prominent Polish pianist and composer who became the prime minister of the Republic of Poland at the end of World War I.
The academy has several lesson and practice rooms for students, with rooms dedicated to piano and other string instruments.
Bilszta said more than 200 students have received music instruction yearly since the academy’s inception in 2000 and three former students completed their formal music education and returned to teach at the school.
Bilszta said that the renovations are a large investment for the nonprofit but said the plans were made with future students in mind.
“We wanted to build it so it will serve many generations very well,” she said.
The project is funded by a bank loan and donations from private donors and grants from various governmental cultural agencies.