Oakwood schools unveils new arts wing, a ‘place for every student can find their voice’

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Oakwood eighth-grader Mila Gelbart said she’s been playing piano since she was 3 years old and started formally singing four years later.

“Music has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember,” the Oakwood Junior High School class president said.

Now, “we have a new space dedicated to the performing arts,” Gelbart added. “Music transcends all cultures and is the only universal language in the world. Everyone has a voice.”

The $7.2 million Rick and Jane Schwartz Performing Arts Wing unveiled Wednesday at OJH and the high school, the teenager said, “will be that place for every student can find their voice … I will be spending countless hours there.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Gelbart was among dozens of Oakwood student musicians and singers who joined more than 100 attendees celebrating the opening of the first phase of the three-part Oakwood Schools Foundation project.

The new wing is named for the Schwartzes, Kettering residents who are both 1967 OHS graduates. The pair donated more than $2.6 million, helping to launch the foundation’s Flourish campaign with the largest gift ever made to the foundation.

“Jane and I believe this brand-new facility will have an everlasting impact,” said Schwartz, the former CEO of Winsupply Inc. “It’s our hope and our dream that what happens inside this space will inspire Oakwood students to a lifelong love of the arts and know that that love will be life changing, life nourishing and life affirming.

It “will bring excitement to orchestra students, band students and choir members,” he added. “It will energize the young, up-and-coming students … to take a chance and explore their potential.”

The new wing includes 8,800 square feet with three performance rooms, one each for band, choir and orchestra, according to the school district. It also will have two practice rooms, three storage rooms and two faculty offices.

The foundation’s initial estimate for all three phases was $8.8 million, but final costs have yet to be determined, according to the district.

Wednesday’s unveiling, Oakwood schools Superintendent Neil Gupta said, was a “significant milestone” for the project, which broke ground at 115-year-old 1200 Far Hills Ave. building in December 2022.

“I think a lot of districts and communities will talk about their love and passion and their support for the arts,” Gupta said.

“I think that our community is showing it visibly through Rick and Jane Schwartz and the other donors by providing a space for our students to be able to be seen, and giving them the ability to perform and be excited about the music,” he added.

More than 50 businesses, organizations, families and individuals — many of them OHS alums — are listed as donors to the foundation’s campaign. More than $7 million has been raised so far, said the OSF’s Kevin Jones, vice chair of the capital campaign.

Fund-raising is ongoing for the remaining phases, which include the auditorium and a visual arts center, Jones said. When those projects will move forward has yet to be decided, he said.

Jones said the auditorium will be the next phase. That plan calls for acoustic and video enhancements, theatrical lighting and equipment upgrades, officials have said.

“We want to make sure we’re doing this the right way,” Jones said.

“To get this part done, this was huge,” he added. “The rest of it will get done in time. We’re just trying to address the needs as they come along and engaging the people that are in interested in the visual arts world and then engaging people who are interested in theater for the auditorium.”

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