Renovation of a former gas station into a theater is continuing, and Richard Albert predicts the first production of the Columbus Civic Theater in its new home will open on schedule March 4.

Renovation of a former gas station into a theater is continuing, and Richard Albert predicts the first production of the Columbus Civic Theater in its new home will open on schedule March 4.

"We're going to make it," the founder and artistic director of the nonprofit group asserted last week -- although he was standing in the middle of what was definitely a work in progress.

Contractor Ralph Butts of B & R Consulting admitted he would have preferred a later date.

"It's a very tight schedule," he said.

But Butts is working under the deadline to make the restrooms ADA compliant, get the doors to open outward instead of inward, prepare wooden tiers to accept used seating on its way from Florida and make a curved stage inside the building at 3837 Indianola Ave. that was once a service station, an auto repair business, a used car lot and even doggy day care.

"It's definitely been fun," Butts said. "We've gotten a lot of good help from volunteers."

The severe winter weather has posed some challenges to staying on schedule, he said.

"I'd say the other major challenge was the budget," he said last week. "There were many unknowns in terms of the heating and air conditioning and the change of use."

A 50-seat theater where plays by the likes of Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw will be staged is definitely a change of use.

The main entrance into the new home for Columbus Civic Theater, which was incorporated in September 2008, will be off Indianola Avenue, Albert said. That entrance will lead patrons to a Dutch-door box office that will share space with a control booth for lighting.

"It's a little cramped, but I think it's fine for us," he said.

The seating on the south side of the building will be curved to better focus the attention of the audience on the performance, according to Albert. There will be four rows of seats on one side, with space behind for patrons who use wheelchairs. The other side will have a partial fifth row of seats.

The stage also will be curved to make attending the Columbus Civic Theater a more intimate experience, Albert said.

The troupe's artistic director, who has his bachelor's degree in theater arts from the State University of New York at New Paltz and his master's of fine arts in theater direction from the University of Mississippi, said that aside from advances in lighting technology, very little has changed in theater from long into the past.

Actors must still learn their lines, Albert said, while costumes must be created for them and sets built for the stage.

The former gas station at the intersection of Indianola Avenue and Blenheim Road doesn't offer much storage space for costumes or props, Albert said, although in choosing the location the 14-foot ceilings offered hope of creating some areas to keep theater property above a green room to be built to the left of the stage.

Albert added that Linda Anderson, who does costumes and props for the troupe, lives on nearby Overbrook Drive.

Columbus Civic Theater will, for the most part, put on what are termed "modern" works, meaning those from about the mid-1800s up through the "Atomic Age," or right after World War II, Albert said.

Plays written after that are considered "contemporary," he said.

The company plans to concentrate on plays that are rarely performed outside of college and university theater groups, he said.

Albert and the others involved in Columbus Civic Theater are hoping local audiences will be interested in such fare and abandon TV for a night to experience live theater.

"This makes the difference," Albert said, "the live interaction between performer and audience."