Lotus School for Excellence unveils new performing arts center

AURORA | During the construction of the Lotus School for Excellence’s new performing arts center, executive director Brett Williams got a call in the middle of the night.

The HVAC unit on top of the school’s roof had exploded, leading to a fire and then a flood of the room below from the efforts to put it out.

That was one of the incidents that made what the school thought would be an 11 to 12 month process take 18 months. But last week, the new 635-seat center was unveiled.

“It’s been quite the journey,” Williams said at the grand opening.

The charter school purchased its building off of East Alameda Avenue from an Assemblies of God church 20 years ago. It made a number of renovations to retrofit the building into a school, but the main thing missing was a performing arts space. There was no large room to hold assemblies or recitals, and the school had to hold its graduation ceremonies outside or off site

The new performing arts center was constructed in the building’s former sanctuary, which was equipped with hard wooden pews — not the most comfortable seating arrangement.

Now, the room has theater-style seats on the ground floor and the balcony and a large stage with two curtains. The facility also has the capacity to show films and to livestream and record events. Where a large staircase once stood (that Williams said was a popular class-ditching spot for students) now stands a renovated foyer with an elegant, lotus-shaped chandelier.

Williams said that Lotus plans to use the space for a multitude of events, including performances and ceremonies for students and professional development trainings and conferences for staff. But he also hopes that the wider community will be able to use the center to hold events as well.

“The sky is the limit here in this space,” Williams said.

The K-12 charter school currently has 952 students, some of whom showed off their artistic prowess at the grand opening. The ceremony started off with a series of songs from the school’s elementary choir, including the national anthem. Later on, seventh grader Arturo Hernandez performed a monologue from the movie “Hugo.” Ninth grader Ryan Okolie performed a monologue from the movie “Newsies,” and tenth grader Amy Padron Laque delivered a rendition of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” accompanied by math teacher Soo Matthews on piano.

Mayor Mike Coffman also spoke, poking fun at his own academic record back when he was in high school at Aurora Central and Hinkley high schools.

“I would like to say I was a good student, but that wouldn’t be true. I would like to say I was a bad student, but that wouldn’t be true either — I was a really bad student,” he said.

He ultimately dropped out of high school and joined the military, which he credited with teaching him the value of discipline — something he hopes students can learn at Lotus, which he praised for its strong academic performance and its work with immigrant students and their families.

“I look forward to partnering with this school to achieve our vision” for Aurora, Coffman said.

The total cost of building the center was $2.2 million, which Williams said the school was able to afford out of its savings and general fund because of the federal COVID relief funding it received during the pandemic, which it was able to use directly for education costs. The center was built by Himmelman Construction.

Williams said he hopes that the school can sponsor events for the wider community in the center, such as parenting classes and job training workshops.

“It’s not just for our families,” he said. “We want this to be an opportunity to bless the whole community.”

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