For theater projects, it’s showtime
Peterborough and Jaffrey: Park Theatre efforts don’t slow down ConVal effort to build its own venue
The Park Theatre was demolished Tuesday morning, making way for a new theater to be built, anticipated to be completed by spring 2016.
Visions of new performance spaces inspired arts enthusiasts across the Monadnock region in the past year.
Committed volunteers are well on their way to building an entirely new Park Theatre in Jaffrey. Meanwhile, a separate group is exploring ways to create a performance hall at ConVal High School that would be much larger and better suited for performances than the school’s Lucy Hurlin Theatre, which was originally designed as a lecture hall. And a study commissioned by the town of Peterborough suggests that the town could consider upgrading the Town House and Bass Hall to make those buildings more suitable for performances. The study also recommends that the town look into a partnership with the high school to share the costs and the management of a new auditorium.
But with the Park Theatre looking to begin construction this year, the question remains: Should ConVal look to advantage of the new theater being built less than 10 miles away?
The Park Theatre project has been in the works for quite a while. Seven years ago, the building, which dates to the 1920s, was purchased by a group of volunteers who organized a fundraising campaign with the intent of refurbishing the building. Earlier this year, the Park Theatre trustees determined it would be impractical and too costly to renovate the building’s auditorium, as originally planned. Instead, they sought and gained approval to demolish the building and reconstruct it from the ground up. And earlier this month, the building came down in just one day, leaving a hole on Main Street.
Caroline Hollister, president of the Park Theatre’s Board of Trustees, described plans for the new building to the Ledger-Transcript last week.
“We’ll have telescoping seating, a flat space for building sets, even a black-box theater,” Hollister said. “It will be about 400 seats and we’re working to make sure they will be comfortable. Now that we have the money and are approved, we hope to start construction next year in the late summer or early fall.”
The theater will be about half the size of the Colonial Theater in Keene.
Hollister plans to meet with the Peterborough Select Board in January to show drawings of the proposed theater.
“It’s a facility that might meet the needs of many towns in the region, including Peterborough.” Hollister said. “We think it’s important to go to Rindge and to New Ipswich. Now we know what we’re providing. We want everyone to have an opportunity to use the facility.”
Meanwhile, a group of ConVal School District parents and administrators are starting to plan for a performing arts facility that could go in the space behind the ConVal High School entrance, between the gymnasium wing and the main school building. Earlier this month, the ConVal School Board gave approval for them to start a fundraising campaign, which ConVal Principal Brian Pickering said would be modeled after the successful effort that raised private donations to install stadium lights at the school’s athletic field.
“We now have a green light,” said Rob Eichler, one of the organizers of the ConVal effort, on Friday. “We’re starting to address fundraising and researching architectural options and determining what our needs will be in that space.”
Eichler said the group had thought about the possibility of using the Park Theater but decided it wasn’t a viable alternative, given what they are hoping to do at the high school.
“Part of what we’re looking for is a teaching and learning venue,” he said. “While we wish the Park Theatre well, it wouldn’t serve the needs of the ConVal district.”
The intent is have instructional space as well as an auditorium, which would be available for use by students on a daily basis, both during class time and after school. Committee members believe it would be impractical to transport students to Jaffrey on a regular basis.
One of the suggestions in the feasibility study done for the town of Peterborough by consultant Duncan Webb was for a cooperative effort between the town and the school district. There were few details of how that would work, especially in a multi-town school district like ConVal. Eichler said members of the ConVal committee have held one preliminary meeting with town officials to discuss the report.
Peterborough town officials are expected to review Webb’s three recommendations in January.