The sounds of power tools echoed through Big Creek Crossing on Wednesday evening, but that sound soon will be replaced by the shrieks of Halloween thrill-seekers.
High school students and their families were working feverishly to complete the final details of a 2,500-square-foot “haunted house” attraction that has served as a major fundraiser for a local chapter of the Catholic Youth Organization for approximately 25 years.
Besides raising money for a mission trip later in the year, students at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church seek to provide a community service by offering a safe and fun activity, said Rick Binder, the church’s youth ministry coordinator.
“Part of it is knowing we are providing a safe place for parents in this community to know their kids can go and have some enjoyment in a controlled atmosphere,” Binder said. “Yes, we want to scare people. But we also want them to know that it’s safe.”
This year’s attraction has a “Carnival Express” theme, which includes plenty of creepy clowns and rooms designed to look like a train car and concession stand.
It is located in the former Midwest Drug storefront at Big Creek Crossing, 2918 Vine, and will open this weekend. Hours are 6:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Special lighted tours will be available Sunday afternoon with no cost — and minimal scares — for younger children and families.
“We just want them to have an opportunity to feel confident and safe that it’s OK just to walk through. Nobody will jump out at them,” Binder said.
The haunted house also will give tours from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Halloween night. Cost is $5 per person. The annual event has gained a loyal community following, and it’s not unusual for the same visitors to return multiple times during the holiday, he said.
Setting up for the annual fright-fest is no small task. Hundreds of man-hours are put in by students and their families to get ready for the three nights of business. The structure’s wooden framework, however, is kept intact and stored when not in use.
Past themes have included New York City, an old mining ghost town, cinema and a spooky hospital.
“What I value more than anything is families working together,” Binder said. “What we see here, both of these kids’ parents are here tonight and interacting and creating together, and working on projects together. This project takes a huge amount of person power, so we need all of our parents to be involved.”
The youth group has a total of approximately 80 members, and approximately half are involved in helping with the fall fundraiser.
The work, however, is well worth it, said Aubry Appelhans, a high school junior.
“It’s just a lot of fun to get to work it with all your classmates, to get to come together into a group and put on a production,” she said, noting the student volunteers tend to take the scare factor “up a notch” when they know it’s a friend coming through for a tour.
“If you just sit out here in the back, like during our breaks or whatever ... you just hear screams going all night,” Appelhans said.
While the tour will include plenty of surprises and volunteers might jump out of hiding to startle guests, all volunteers are trained in safety measures and etiquette. No volunteers will ever touch guests during their way through the facility, and emergency exits are available if guests become overwhelmed or need to leave early, Binder said.
The end of the attraction includes a maze, which guests are left to navigate alone in pitch darkness.
"It’s all in good fun,” Binder said. “We’re amateurs. We don’t promise anybody that this is going to be the greatest show they’ve ever seen. They know they’re donating to our opportunity to go serve, and it’s a great event to bring families together."