Creating a community theater at Memorial Boulevard School will cost $14.3 million, according to a final report by architects who investigated the option for the past six months.
The plan calls for overhauling the historic theater to replace ancient, broken-down equipment, add rehearsal and storage space, update lighting and the sound system, replace the seats and much more.
The Simsbury-based Schoenhardt Architecture + Interior Design plan details the need for a new entranceway, a lobby and a host of changes to create a modern theater that could be used for music, plays and other events.
Mayor Art Ward said the architects, who have worked closely with city officials for months, did “a fine job.”
“I hope it comes to fruition. We’ve needed it for years,” said Ken Ferris, the former music director at Bristol Eastern High School.
City Councilor Craig Minor said the plan offers a beautiful way to reuse a valuable community resource.
But whether the city can come up with the money anytime soon remains unclear. The report itself projects a construction bid opening in March 2010.
The city has eyed the possibility of a theater at the 1922 school building for several years as a way to lure people downtown by providing a much-needed venue for everything from the Older Members Show to musicals by Bristol Theatre Arts.
The 900-seat theater “is in dire need of renovation if it is to serve the community in the future,” the report says. “As it is today, the theater is almost unusable as a performance venue.”
“Every theatrical system is either absent or in need of replacement,” the report, submitted Thursday, says.
The lobby and backstage areas are wholly inadequate, it says, “and the seating is in poor condition” and lacks the sight lines that people expect now.
Moreover, the report notes, the drapery that surrounds the stage is in “very poor shape” and likely poses a fire risk.
The plan features an addition to the rear of the existing stage that would blend with the school’s architecture.
On the north side, where the parking lot is located, the architects call for a new entrance and lobby, including restrooms, a ticket office and an office for the theater.
It doesn’t say anything about who should manage the theater if it is built.
Before the project can move ahead, it will need the backing of the City Council and the Board of Finance. There is no firm timetable when either will consider the request.
Schoenhardt, which got $72,900 to do the report, is a leader in working with the design of schools and theaters.
It designed the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center, worked on the lobby of Hartford Stage, designed the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School and worked on renovations at the Thomaston Opera House, the Bushnell Theater and the Newport Opera House in Newport, R.I.
Memorial Boulevard School is slated to close when the city finishes two new schools, perhaps in 2015. The city has made no plans for the future of the historic school on Memorial Boulevard, which served initially as the city’s sole high school.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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