WATERVILLE — A $4.8 million project to renovate and build an addition on to the Waterville Opera House will be completed this spring if all goes according to plans.

“We are hoping for an opening celebration at the end of April,” said Diane Bryan, executive director of the Opera House.

Bryan was speaking recently from her temporary office in The Center, which she is using while her permanent office serves as a base for Sheridan Corp., the project’s general contractor.

The Opera House is getting a giant facelift — a renovated balcony with new seats, an addition on the north side of City Hall to house restrooms and dressing rooms, a freight elevator and set construction building, new lighting, motorized rigging on the stage, new carpeting, fresh paint and restored woodwork.

The Opera House, which showcases everything from plays to musical events and serves as a venue for the Maine International Film Festival, was closed last year for the work.

Built in 1902, the Opera House is on the second floor of City Hall. The addition is being built to the north of the Police Department, which is in the basement of the building.

While much of the work has so far gone unseen by the public because it involves inside work, earth work and installation of underground utilities off Front Street, steel beams will be going up shortly and the addition will start to take shape, Bryan said.

“Sheridan is working tirelessly,” she said. “They understand we need to get back in business.”

The project got a $2 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which was matched by $2 million in fundraising and another $300,000 from the Alfond Foundation that allowed for building the set construction building. Money also is being raised through the Take a Seat Campaign.

Bryan said when people see the outcome of the project, they will be delighted.

“You know how they say, ‘Build it and they will come?'” she said. “We wanted to present a higher level of performance here and I believe we’ve succeeded. When I think of the shows that we’ve produced, from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ to ‘West Side Story,’ to ‘Chicago,’ we’ve raised the expectations of the people in the community. When they come, they’re going to get quality.”

The project is necessary to maintain and improve the Opera House, which will ultimately draw more people to the city, she said.

“I think with the emphasis on the creative economy and the need for our community to grow, the new and improved Opera House will be able to provide a strong impetus for other cultural and performing groups to want to be located here,” she said.

Barbara Allen, development director for the Opera House, led a recent tour. Windows were exposed, allowing daylight into the orchestra section and on the stage.

The lobby was nearly unrecognizable, as a wall had been torn down and the women’s restrooms removed in preparation for building an addition to house new restrooms and dressing rooms.

The woodwork had been stripped by City Hall custodian Dave Higgins, who has worked long hours to reveal the original wood, according to Allen.

A large post that formerly met patrons as they walked into the Opera House from the lobby has been removed and two smaller poles installed on either side of the aisle. Seating for the handicapped will be installed as part of the renovation.

The new set construction building will allow workers to build sets downstairs and bring them up to the stage in the freight elevator, instead of building them on the stage, Allen said.

A mural uncovered on the ceiling near the stage during renovation will be restored and returned to a ceiling off the upper level of the lobby.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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