BUCKHANNON — The City of Buckhannon has received more than $100,000 in grant funds to turn an old theater into a modern arts center.
Buckhannon learned Monday that it had been awarded an $102,000 grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History to continue transforming the historic Colonial Theatre, at 48 E. Main St., into a multi-purpose space/arts center, according to a city press release. The grant was made possible through the National Endowment for the Arts and the state legislature. Built in 1924, the historic structure operated as the Colonial Theatre from 1924 to 1973 before morphing into the Cinema Theatre from 1973-1980. Then, in 1980, it seesawed between functioning either as a restaurant or bar until its closure in 2014.
In January 2017, the city purchased the structure from Catherine Cuppari for $60,000.
City officials couldn’t be happier about the news, although they weren’t completely surprised, mayor David McCauley said Monday. The primary preparer of the grant application — city architect Bryson VanNostrand — had seemed hopeful that the city would be awarded at least some funding,
although he wasn’t sure how much, McCauley said.
“[Bryson VanNostrand] had expressed optimism that we would receive something from the state, but we were beyond excited when our grant was 100 percent funded,” the mayor said. “There was only $600,000 for the entire state, so for us to receive $102,000 of that very small pool of money, that’s a big deal and speaks volumes about the way Buckhannon is perceived in Charleston.”
McCauley noted that VanNostrand has committed to completing all of the architectural work pro bono, estimating that his gift is likely worth “tens of thousands of dollars.”
So, what exactly will the grant be used for? Thus far, city crews have completed significant demolition work; therefore, the $102,000 will bankroll efforts to repair the roof, restore the façade, reinstall the marquee and install water, electricity and plumbing, McCauley said. If that happens, the theater may be ready to raise the curtain as early as this fall.
“There’s a lot more we can do with the $102,000,” McCauley said. “We can shore up some electrical needs and also reconstruct the restrooms. If we get electric and plumbing and water going again in the place, we would potentially by the fall be able to open the place for some limited engagement if we get the blessing of the state fire marshal. I don’t think it’s any secret that the BCT (Buckhannon Community Theatre) is doing auditions for the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ and they are hopeful, and I am optimistic, that they will be able to use the theater in October for that. No guarantees — but I’m hopeful.”
John Waltz, a board member of both the BCT and ART 26201, said he sees the grant as good news for the arts scene in Buckhannon, particularly when it comes to involving the younger generation.
“It could be a really unique opportunity to perform ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ if it’s appropriate or safe,” Waltz said Tuesday. “We want to perform it somewhere in downtown Buckhannon, even if it’s not there. We’re always talking about the need for not only performance spaces but rehearsal spaces, and I’m excited because I think of all the things this could provide for young folks; it could be sort of an extension of Stockert (Youth Center) and an opportunity for students to interact more with the arts.”
McCauley emphasized that the restoration project will be tackled in three phases and that the objective is to refurbish the theater so that it looks the same as it did in 1924. Doing so is important in enhancing the overall aura of downtown Buckhannon, he said.
“This will be a further embellishment to that dense core of historical buildings that are in our three or four blocks downtown, from the Stockert Youth Center to the courthouse,” the mayor said. “The architecture in that area makes it a very special place.
“To restore a building that’s approximately a century old, without it being used for something less than what it was originally used for, is an exciting development.”
And although the $102,000 grant will cover the cost of the first phase of renovation, the city is always on the lookout for more dollars to pay for the next two phases.
“This (grant) was obviously more than a drop in the bucket, but we still have a substantial financial need, so anyone with time or resources who can help should contact city hall,” McCauley said.
Call 304-472-1651 or stop by 70 E. Main St. to help out.