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Park Theatre meets goal for demolition

JAFFREY — The old Park Theatre is coming down, and plans to resurrect a new theater in its place are under way.

The Park Theatre Board of Trustees has been working for months to raise $100,000 to qualify for a Community Development Finance Authority Tax Credit match of $200,000. They met their goal last month, said Caroline Hollister, president of the Park Theatre’s Board of Trustees, in a phone interview Wednesday. The board raised $72,000 in donations, and spent another $42,000 raised to remove a buried oil tank from the property in June. Those funds, along with thousands of dollars in engineering and planning to finalize a building site plan and architectural drawings met the Community Development Finance Authority’s benchmark to qualify for the $200,000 match.

So, demolition of the old building will be moving forward in the coming months, and the Board of Trustees will be able to focus on its next hurdle: Raising $1.6 million to reconstruct the theater and open it to the public.

“We’ve done everything and more to make this work, but no one has been able to see the fruits of our labor. Now, with the building coming down, people will be able to really see us moving forward,” said Hollister.

With its $300,000 goal met, the board will be moving forward with the removal of the hazardous material on the site, including asbestos and lead paint. The asbestos and lead in the 19th-century building were more extensive than first thought, said Hollister.

“We learned the extent of the hazardous material just last week, when Southwest Regional Planning [Commission] completed their report. It’s confirmed the wisdom of the board to decide to tear down the building. By the time they remove the windows with lead paint, and the wiring, floor and transit panels to deal with the asbestos, there would not be much of the building left,” said Hollister.

When the trustees originally purchased the building, the hope was to be able to save the building, but it recently became clear that would not be an option. Instead, memorabilia from the apartment above the theater, where the original owner lived, the 288 panel mural of Mount Monadnock and other items will be saved and installed in the new theater. The new building will be in the Art Deco style, like its predecessor. Under the previous plan to renovate the building, the theater would have sat 324 people. With the new plan, 400 seats will be available, said Hollister.

Once the site is remediated, the board can move forward with demolition of the building, and clearing the site in anticipation of building, said Hollister. The construction phase of the project is expected to cost $1.6 million. The board is currently applying for a second phase of tax credit through the Community Development Finance Authority, as well as a low-cost, long-term loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Community Facilities, which the board hopes will cover the total cost of construction, she said. The board will also have to raise another $250,000 for the theater’s seats. Even that will not complete the building, though it will be enough to open, said Hollister. The board will still need at least another $100,000 down the line to complete finishing details. Since 2006, the board has raised more than $1 million that has been spent on purchasing the building, planning and engineering phases, as well as insurance and taxes, Hollister said.

Hutter Construction of New Ipswich is slated to build the new facility, and estimates a 10 to 12 month building period to complete the project, said Hollister. Construction will continue through the winter months, once started. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2014. The board is still working to create a firm timeline for the start and end of construction , but Hollister estimated the doors of the new theater would be open by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

“It means a lot to so many people,” said Hollister of the anticipated building. “We have thousands of donors and supporters who believed and helped out in more ways than I can list, in big ways and little ways. We’re just terribly grateful. And we’re just as committed now as we were when we started, because we know what a blessing this will be for our communities and our region. We’re cautiously excited, you could say,” said Hollister with a laugh. “We’re just so happy that the community has showed us continual, substantial support. It’s what keeps us getting up every morning and moving forward.”

The Park Theatre sits near the intersection of Route 202, Main Street and Route 137. The Jaffrey Planning Board has given the Board of Trustees 60 days to demolish the building after obtaining a demolition permit, and an additional 60 days following demolition to secure the site .

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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