WATERVILLE — Waterville Opera House officials Tuesday asked city councilors to guarantee a $1.25 million loan to help complete the building’s renovation-and-addition project.

The Opera House is 13 months into the $4.8 million project and the cost is exceeding estimates by about $600,000, officials said. The city, which owns the building, has to guarantee the loan in order for the bank to approve it since the Opera House has no assets.

“We plan on being good citizens and paying the loan that is ours to pay,” Opera House Executive Director Diane Bryan said after the public hearing. “It is our responsibility and we’ll take care of it.”

Councilors will take a first vote on the request April 17 and two final votes at the first meeting in May, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

James LaLiberty, an attorney who serves on an Opera House committee dealing with finances and legal matters, said the loan will solve problems that arose after construction started, including a cash flow issue. Contracters must be paid and bills are coming in faster than pledged money is coming in he said. He said that the bulk of the loan would be repaid by the end of the year.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, asked if it is possible the cost overruns could be higher than $600,000, but LaLiberty said officials do not think so.

“How could you start a project and not have an idea what it’s going to cost?” O’Donnell asked.

LaLiberty said when pavement was opened and walls came down as part of the project, unanticipated issues arose. Other issues included Community Development Block Grant components that contained difficult contractual requirements.

“So, renovation costs exceeded everybody’s expectations,” LaLiberty said. “The long story short is, we are where we are. We can’t go back and undo the overruns.”

LaLiberty said Opera House officials would rather not be asking the council for a loan guarantee. “It is what it is, and we have to recognize reality and deal with it,” he said.

Bryan told councilors the Opera House is scheduled to re-open April 27 and comedian Bob Marley will perform the next day. Shows are booked into next year, she said.

Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, said the city missed having the Maine International Film Festival at the Opera House last summer and businesses downtown suffered because of that. The MIFF is scheduled to return to the Opera House this summer, Bryan said.

Resident Joan Phillips-Sandy said she was compelled to speak at Tuesday’s hearing because she feels so strongly about the project.

“What Diane and her board and her staff have achieved is nothing short of remarkable,” Phillips-Sandy said.

She said the Opera House was unsafe and the work had to be done “to bring this amazingly old theater into the 21st century.”

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said she took a tour of the construction before Tuesday’s meeting and was awestruck.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

Project funding includes a $2 million donation from the Alfond Foundation, which was matched by $2 million in fundraising and another $300,000 fromthe foundation for building a set construction building. Officials also are “selling” seats to the public for $1,000, $500 or $250 in exchange for a nameplate on the seat. Bryan said fundraising will continue.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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