People enter Johnson Hall in Gardiner on July 7, 2019. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy

Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center has won a competitive grant from the Maine Downtown Center to help complete the renovation of its historic building.

The theater in Gardiner was awarded nearly $244,000 — more than a third of the funds available — to pay for repairs to the exterior masonry, windows and cornice.

“We are pleased to distribute these awards for what we believe will be catalytic projects in Maine downtowns,” Anne Ball, program director at the Maine Downtown Center, said in a provided statement. “The program set out to drive the connection between economic development and historic preservation.

“The grant projects will clearly illustrate this,” she added. “This was a very competitive grant program — more than $2.2 million were requested by applicants and this speaks to the need for this type of funding in Maine.”

Mike Miclon, the executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, said the venue received the full amount requested, but he had not expected that.

“It’s part of the historic project we have to do,” Miclon said. “The masonry needs to be repointed. Our historic windows were redone years ago, but all of the other windows are single-paned terrible things and will be updated. It’s all part of the work that has to get done for the renovation.”

Johnson Hall has embarked on a multiyear project to raise funds to renovate the upper theater in Maine’s oldest opera house on Water Street in Gardiner. When construction begins, plans call for rebuilding the 400-seat theater that occupies the upper floors of the venue.

The $4.9 million project includes building a lobby and concession area on the second floor, along with performers’ dressing rooms and green rooms, and a full-service box office and foyer on the ground floor. The Studio Theater on the ground floor will remain open after the renovation is completed.

This work is expected to be done in the spring because the funds have a timeline attached to them.

“Where there’s nothing going on inside Johnson Hall, it’s OK if we block up the entrance to Johnson Hall will a bunch of scaffolding,” he said. “Nothing else is going on.”

Earlier this year, Miclon started canceling shows for the balance of the season over concern about the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, even before government and public health officials imposed strong limits on the number of people who are allowed to gather.

Miclon said he’s now evaluating whether Johnson Hall’s summer concert series at Waterfront Park, which normally starts at the end of June, or the summer theater camp, which starts in July, will go on this year.

The source of the grant funds is the REvitalizeME National Park Service sub-grant program. The Maine Development Foundation, of which the Maine Downtown Center is part, and the Maine Historic Preservation Commissioner partnered in awarding the grant funds. The goal of REvitalizeME is supporting rehabilitation of historic properties to rehabilitate, project and foster economic development in rural communities.

Four awards, to help fund architectural and engineering specifications, were made to the Norway Opera House in Norway, 7 Island Ave. in Skowhegan, the Chocolate Church in Bath and the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft.

The request for exterior work by the Peavey Memorial Library in Eastport also received funding.

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