The show must go on ... the courtyard can wait

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's project to replace the worn bricks in its central courtyard will be delayed by about a year.

Rather than starting work when the theater season ends this fall and completing the project before OSF theaters reopen in Ashland for the spring of 2008, OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson said work will start in late 2008. The project should be finished by February 2009, before that year's season.

Nicholson said several factors led to the delay. Under new Artistic Director Bill Rauch, OSF is making changes to the Green Show, the free performances staged in the courtyard off South Pioneer Street. Tearing up the performance venue would be problematic, Nicholson said.

OSF will have two new leaders in its scene shop and it would be hard for new employees to cope with the chaos of a torn-up courtyard. And with its varying slopes, the site also presents design challenges, Nicholson said.

The worn, cracked and uneven bricks were laid over coarse, sandy soil about 35 years ago. The bricks and soil will be excavated to make way for a crushed rock base covered in a layer of sand. The new bricks will provide better traction, said Greg Covey of Covey Pardee Landscape Architects, of Ashland and Mount Shasta.

Covey created computer images to give the OSF board of directors a preliminary look at the courtyard redesign. The images do not show finish details of the project, he cautioned. Covey said the design should complement surrounding buildings and reflect OSF's history.

Under the plan, raised planters will divide the courtyard from the street, new steps will be equipped with handrails and low brick-faced walls with concrete tops will provide seating for Green Show performances. The lawn in the courtyard will remain, Covey said.

The current stage was built about a dozen years ago by OSF staff members as a temporary structure. Parts of it are wearing out and rotting, Covey said.

To meet city codes, the brick sidewalk next to South Pioneer Street will be replaced with concrete. A new concrete sidewalk will pass through the courtyard near the administrative office and members' lounge.

Several community members have suggested sandblasting or coating the existing bricks for better traction to avoid the $500,000-plus to redo the courtyard. But Covey said that would leave the slopes in the courtyard.

"The slopes will still be slippery if there's rain, leaves or ice," he said. "There are also a lot of broken bricks."

One of the trickiest areas for disabled people to navigate is the dipping slope in front of the box-office window. Nicholson said the box office will be moved across the street to the bottom area of Carpenter Hall, where it can be wheelchair-accessible and protected from the elements.

The city leases the courtyard property to OSF. City Administrator Martha Bennett said the lease places liability on OSF for courtyard injuries. The City Council voted in March to send OSF a letter asking that the work be complete before the start of the next season in spring 2008.

Councilwoman Alice Hardesty said she remains concerned about the safety issues in the courtyard, while Councilman Eric Navickas encouraged Covey and Nicholson to use rough-cut bricks with an abrasive surface to improve traction.

Vickie Aldous is a staff writer for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or

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