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An accessible goal

When the curtain goes up on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 season, Phase I of an ambitious two-year renovation project will be unveiled.

The most notable change will be improved accessibility to the iconic Angus Bowmer and Allen Elizabethan theaters, including the installation of an elevator in the Bowmer.

With the opening of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” just a month away, “serious construction” of Phase I is nearly a wrap at the Bowmer, said Eddie Wallace, associate director of communications.

“We’re on time and we will be ready for the previews in February,” he said.

People can ask questions about the renovations during an OSF town hall meeting ushering in the 2016 season at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, in the Thomas Theatre.

The town hall will feature Executive Director Cynthia Rider and Artistic Director Bill Rauch and be moderated by OSF Community Producer Claudia Alick. The public is invited to submit questions in advance of the meeting to townhall@osfashland.org.

OSF received a $1 million gift from Ashland residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod in 2013, with $500,000 earmarked as seed money for the redesign of OSF's iconic courtyard, known as The Bricks. The Meyer Memorial Trust also donated $250,000 toward the project.

The festival has planned to replace the courtyard since at least 2007, when Ashland City Council sent OSF a letter asking that the project be finished before the start of the 2008 season. But the project was postponed during a change in leadership, when Bill Rauch became artistic director. It was postponed again in 2008 because of budget problems.

In 2012, Ashland resident Philip Lang filed a lawsuit against OSF and the city of Ashland, which owns the property on which the festival sits, claiming the courtyard and other areas of the festival are out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit is ongoing in U.S. District Court in Medford.

The courtyard renovation project will include flattening problematic grades and cross-slopes to ensure safe and easy access to the Angus Bowmer and Allen Elizabethan theaters as well as the administration offices and Tudor Guild Gift Shop.

The first step, however, calls for improved access into and within the Bowmer.

Significant upgrades have been made to the main lobby of the 47-year-old theater so that it is “friendly and welcoming” to all patrons, Wallace said.

Instead of being ushered through a side door, patrons with mobility challenges and their companions will now enter through the main doors. An elevator is being installed in the main lobby so those patrons can access the auditorium and the wheelchair seating areas. Other modifications include wider hallways and a wheelchair-accessible restroom.

The goal is to enhance the theater-going experience for all patrons, Wallace said.

The project began in November after the final curtain call of the 2015 season.

In recent weeks, “the focus has been on the most public spaces,” said Ted DeLong, OSF’s general manager. “We’re on track for Feb. 19,” the day "Twelfth Night" begins.

“I’m very pleased,” he said, adding that the “reconfigured lobby is beautiful.”

Other work this winter included the installation of a hydraulic lift in the loading dock area between the Bowmer and Allen Elizabethan theaters that will allow OSF production staff to safely and efficiently move scenery, props and costumes into and out of the two theaters.

DeLong said a lift will be added within the Chautauqua Wall of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre this spring, enabling wheelchair patrons to enter the outdoor venue through the main doors.

The work at the Bowmer and Allen Elizabethan “lays the groundwork for Phase II,” which begins after the 2016 season, DeLong said.

Phase II calls for a major renovation of the brick courtyard, including a redesign of the spectator seating areas for the Green Show.

The sloped lawn at the center of the Bricks will be slightly larger and will have a slightly steeper slope in order to make viewing and listening easier during crowded performances. The space also will be redesigned to accommodate patrons in wheelchairs and with mobility devices. A wall for those not wishing to sit on the lawn will be expanded fivefold.

Also, the long, steep ramp that connects the Bowmer’s upper and main doors will be removed, and a set of stairs and handrails installed (see correction, below).

The goal is to retain the Bricks as a gathering place and performance area for the Green Show and other OSF and community productions.

Projected completion date is June 2017, just in time for the summer season.

Adroit Construction of Ashland is the general contractor on the project. Hacker, a Portland-based architectural firm, drafted the interior redesign, and Walker/Macy, a landscape architectural firm also out of Portland, is doing the design work for the courtyard.

Founded by Angus Bowmer in 1935, OSF draws more than 400,000 people to almost 800 performances every year and employs about 575 theater professionals.

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Correction: Removing the ramp connecting the Bower's upper and main doors will be part of Phase II. A previous version incorrectly said it was part of Phase I.

A worker with Adroit Construction Co. works Tuesday to install an elevator in the Bowmer Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch