WATERVILLE — A wish has come true for organizers of the Waterville Opera House’s $4.3 million renovation and expansion.

The opera house’s executive director said Friday that the nonprofit organization has met a “significant” 3-to-1 challenge match from the Harold Alfond Foundation, landing about $300,000 for a set construction shop to be added to the project plans.

The set construction shop — previously a wish list item organizers thought they might have to do without — will provide easy access for set pieces and equipment to the main stage, according to Opera House Executive Director Diane Bryan. She said that will enable the opera house, which has been closed during project work, to attract a wider range of bigger and better events.

“The additional gift from the Alfond Foundation allows us to build what we’re calling a set construction shop that we would otherwise have not been able to afford in this project,” Bryan said. “It will further facilitate our ability to produce more events and bring in more of a variety of shows with greater ease to the opera house.”

Project officials are hoping to reopen the opera house this winter. A “soft opening” is planned for February, in which smaller shows would be held so the new equipment and setup can be tested and tweaked, followed by a grand opening after that.

The Harold Alfond Foundation announced its gift to the opera house in early June, pledging to match every dollar received until Aug. 1 with $3 from the foundation. That added bonus came on top of the foundation’s pledge in April to donate up to $2 million toward the $4.3 million opera house renovation and expansion project. The pledges were in keeping with the late Harold Alfond’s practice of offering matching grants to encourage further donations.

Opera house officials said they were able to raise $100,000 by Aug. 1 through individuals, businesses and foundations, clinching the 3-to-1 Alfond match.

The 942-seat, city-owned theater opened in 1902 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When the project is complete, the Opera House will have about 850 seats, as well as an addition on the north side of City Hall for new dressing rooms, rest rooms, a freight elevator and stair tower, plus an expanded lobby, a new sound booth, and stage equipment.

The ground-level set construction shop would be built at the base of a freight elevator, at the rear of the building, in an area that is currently part of a parking lot. Inside will be a large open area with high ceilings.

“It will be directly in front of the freight elevator, so that all large pieces of equipment or sets built there can be loaded directly in the freight elevator and brought to the stage level,” Bryan said.

Previously, sets and equipment had to be erected directly on the stage, which made setting up and breaking down between different acts difficult, Bryan said.

With the set construction shop, organizers of the recently concluded Maine International Film Festival, for instance, would no longer need to rent film equipment and haul it up a flight of stairs. Actually, the film festival won’t need to worry about hauling anything, because the project also includes an equipment upgrade inside the opera house, Bryan said, hearkening it back to its days as a movie house in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

“It’s a decent size and will allow us to do what we need to do to get access to bigger, better, more interesting acts to our venue,” Bryan said. “It will bring diversity.”

Having the easy access of the set construction shop will also open many doors to accommodate bigger events than the opera house has previously hosted, she said. That could mean, for example, larger concerts on national tours. “Like with a concert, a truck can just back in, move all the musical equipment up, instruments, right into the freight elevator, right up to the stage,” Bryan said. “It will make bookings much easier for us and them.”

In announcing the 3-to-1 match in June, Greg Powell, chairman of the Alfond Foundation Board of Trustees, said the additional commitment “will give the opera house the final boost it needs to complete the campaign this summer.”

Even though the opera house has reached that goal, Bryan said the fundraising effort continues because the final project costs are still not certain. In addition, continuous fundraising will likely become the norm for the opera house even once the renovation and expansion is complete in the next four to six months.

“It’s with an eye toward creating an endowment to further secure the position of the opera house in Waterville,” Bryan said.

As part of its final fundraising efforts, a Take a Seat campaign was launched, in which people may “buy” a seat in the orchestra section for $1,000; a balcony seat for $500; or a side balcony seat for $250, and have a personalized plaque placed on the back of the seat.

About 200 of the 850 seats have been bought so far, Bryan said Friday.

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]

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