Franklin Auditorium Restored

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Stepping into the Franklin Educational Campus auditorium is like stepping back in time.

"You could never duplicate this," said Mike Schmidt, the Rochester City School District Chief of Operations.

 "This kind of architecture you don't see it very much anymore," said Terry Loconte of Gilbane Construction.

Franklin High School opened in 1928. At 500,000 square feet, it has a mile of hallways. For a time, it was the largest school east of the Mississippi. At its peak, it housed 4,000 students. 

The district spent $5 million over the last year to renovate the architectural gem. The auditorium has been brought up to date with new lighting, sound system, sound panels, carpeting, curtains, accessibility features and air conditioning. 

But the restoration kept the details that make the Franklin auditorium special. The intricate ceiling, molding and college crests that adorn the walls remain intact. 

"To refurbish a historic auditorium that's unique within this area and this county is really an honor," said Loconte.

The team bought 1,500 new seats for the lower level, making sure they matched the old wooden ones. They found only one company in the Midwest that makes the old-fashioned seating. The aisle seating panels with Franklin's image were refurbished and the district added a lighting feature.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the auditorium is the huge Zodiac on the ceiling. No one knows why it's there. Benjamin Franklin was into astrology and he was a Mason, a group with an affinity for astrological symbols. But the Landmark Society notes the architect of Franklin, Gordon, Madden and Kaelber, also designed the Eastman Theatre. There's a Zodiac surrounding the main light fixture in the theater. The firm also designed Rundel Library, which has a Zodiac on the floor.

The district doesn't have a lot of large, air-conditioned auditorium space. The district hopes to use Franklin for graduations and other community events.

"We wanted to make it a showplace for the students here at Franklin, but also for the students in the community,' said Schmidt.

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