Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park Unveils New Auditorium


By Steve Sears

Post-renovation of the Ridgedale Middle School auditorium (credit: LAN Associates)

Florham Park’s Ridgedale Middle School, which serves grades 5 through 8, recently had its auditorium totally renovated.

Ridgedale Middle School was opened in the early 1930s, and a first full renovation was done fifty years later in the early 1980s. “Nothing had been done since,” says the school’s Theater Advisor, Michaela Harris. 

After a referendum that was voted on and approved two years ago, and stalled work on the project due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the auditorium was finally completed in early summer after the 2021-2022 school year. 

Eagerness fills the air as a possible initial theater production will be performed inside the newly renovated space this fall.

“As part of the district’s Long Range Facility Plan, which identifies all district Capital Projects of need, the Ridgedale auditorium was cited for lighting, sound, mechanical systems, and HVAC components, thus leading to a total renovation,” says John Csaltos, Business Administrator for the Florham Park Public School District. “Asbestos abatement, sound, lighting, stage lighting, mechanicals, HVAC, flooring, stage refurbishing, and seating have been completed. “

The final cost, including soft costs (architect, engineering, bonding, etc.) is $2,345,000.

Florham Park School Superintendent, Steven Caponegro, and Csaltos we’re both very, very determined to restore the auditorium to its original glory. “That was part of the goal,” Harris says. “And what I can see with the painting and whatnot, I’m at a loss for words. It’s gorgeous. It is restoring the design to the original appearance.”

Csaltos conferred with Harris during the initial stage of planning. “Before anything even started, just to get my input,” Harris said. “That really stood out to me, because he didn’t have to do that. They had their plans, but he came and looked for my input, and told me some of the things he was thinking about. I felt like that right there was sort of proof about how important the arts are here in Florham Park. I just feel so lucky to be in a school district where it’s not just words. There’s active and real support of the arts.”

Joanne Holmes has two daughters, Abby and Sydney, who benefitted from the school’s theater program. “I’m a parent and I wanted the school to be approved and renovated,” she says. “My daughters are heavily involved in the drama program. They love it and love to perform.” Sydney, who is in 7th grade, will experience the excitement of performing on the new stage, while Abby now moves on to Hanover Park High School and its drama program.

Harris explains further some of thee work that transpired. “It was one of those things where there were a lot of items on the list, including just a general upgrade in the electrical end, but with that came lighting. They moved from the more traditional lighting to now mostly LED, and the sound system could only manage eight or nine of the headset microphones. Now my understanding is that it can handle more. And just the acoustics, they moved the speakers and put speakers in the walls. A lot of the renovations also detail things just to take away dark spots that were on the stage. Taking photographs or video was always difficult because there were so many dark spots, so part of it (the renovations) was to eliminate that, and part of it was to make the sound better, so that there was no echo, no feedback.”

Csaltos adds, “There are many people to thank for their time and input above and beyond the generous investment of the local community.  Ms. Eleanor Weis for her book “Saga of A Crossroads – Florham Park”, which I received when I began in 2001.  Ms. Suzanne Herold who, as Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, provided further insight and access to documents showing the original auditorium.  The Board of Education, former Board Member Ms. Linda Rozek, Mr. and Mrs. Hupcey, Former RMS Principal Mr. Mark Majeski, Ms. Michaela Harris and others whose love for the arts and the history of Florham Park inspire people.”

In the end, there’s one special group that will benefit the most. “The kids already look at the theater as a home away from home, but now it’s really going to feel like it,” Harris says. “The seats are all new, the carpeting is new, and they’ve refinished the stage. A lot of money went into it, but also a lot of thought went into the design of it, which I really appreciated.”


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