SKOWHEGAN — The popularity of the Skowhegan Opera House in 2009 and 2010 landed the venerable venue popular musical acts. Leon Russell, Ani DiFranco, Cowboy Junkies, Keller Williams and Johnny Winter drew crowds, but they also got the attention of the state fire marshal’s office.

There was no sprinkler system.

The town went to work raising money for a fire suppression system, but there still were problems attracting popular musical acts. There were no bathrooms for the performers, and the 850-seat opera house, built in 1909, was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

Enter the Opera House Renovation Committee, whose goals were to bring the place back into the limelight. Jon Kimbell, the longtime artistic director at the North Shore Music Theater, near Boston, and producer-in-residence for a production company that works on the televised broadcast of the Oscars, was named committee chairman.

Kimbell, 74, a full-time Skowhegan resident for the past three years, got permission from selectmen in March to help create a committee to explore ways of improving the opera house for performers, producers and audiences alike. The Skowhegan Opera House continues to showcase comedian Bob Marley and dance recitals by Dance Express, Sally’s Top Hat School of Dance and Bradley’s School of Dance; but popular musical acts have fallen off the venue roster, Cara Mason, the opera house manager, said in March.

This week, Skowhegan selectmen agreed to award some of the initial work to Wentworth Partners and Associates civil engineering firm, with Steve Govoni, of Skowhegan, at the helm. The initial cost of the upgrades came in at $8,700, Kimbell said by phone Friday. The money will come from the Opera House Special Revenue account, which has a balance of about $15,000.

“We are looking at the long-term goals of renovating the opera house, so we’re starting with some small steps to get the facility up to some reasonable standard for both the audience and the performer,” Kimbell said. “That means we’re going to look into restroom facilities for backstage use as well as in the lobby. We’re looking at better sound and better lights and some beginning solutions to the temperature problems.”

Kimbell said there still is a long list of things to do over time, but for now it’s one step at a time. The committee is meeting with Govoni, a local building contractor and a lighting and sound specialist Tuesday to go over their “to do” list.

He said the challenge is to identify what the committee can afford to do and what will give them “the biggest bang for the buck right off the bat.”

Kimbell said the group wants to know where it is going with the project by December, with shows possible by next spring or summer.

“Once we have the information of what it costs for each one of the elements that we think we need, we can prioritize them and figure out how we’re going to pay for them,” he said. “All of that is up in the air and everything’s on the table. It’s going to take some investment, and it’s going to take a lot of work on the community’s part to make it happen.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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