Norway inches closer to Opera House work

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NORWAY – The town is one step closer to proceeding with a plan to stabilize the historic downtown Opera House.

“We’ve completed all the steps to finalize the contract,” Town Manager David Holt said Monday of the $150,000 Public Facilities Community Development Block grant that is being used to help shore up the back wall of the three-story brick structure on Main Street.

Holt said if all goes according to plan, it may only be a few more weeks before the contract is issued and the job to stabilize the crumbling 1894 edifice in the town’s National Historic District goes out to bid.

A portion of the sagging Opera House roof collapsed Sept. 21, 2007, under the weight of pooling water, severing a sprinkler pipe and flooding the building.

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Two engineering studies have deemed the structure to be “unsafe to the public and neighboring property” and officials say the structure has continued to deteriorate causing not only an imminent unsafe situation downtown but an unfavorable economic one.

The $150,000 is the largest amount of grant money available through the Economic and Community Development Block Grant’s public facilities historic preservation category.

Bill and Beatrice Damon have also donated $200,000 toward the purchase and stabilization costs. A $50,000 contribution has been made by the Norway Opera House Corp.

The stabilization project cost is now estimated to be $200,000.

Holt has said previously that once the town is ready to go out to bid, officials will look for a contractor who has experience in working with “big, old brick buildings.” The contractor will be hired specifically to stabilize the building, working primarily on the weakened back wall which is 60 feet high and about 100 feet wide.

Once the project is complete, officials say they intend to turn the building over to someone else who has the resources to continue renovations and hopefully revitalize the building.

Earlier this year, special town meeting voters authorized the Board of Selectmen to initiate steps to take the Opera House by eminent domain and using $200,000 donated by the Damons.

The money will be used to pay the owner whatever a judge deems a reasonable price for the building, whether it be the $185,000 that the town has the building appraised or not. Building owner Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprise in Londonderry, N.H., who purchased the building in 2003, has appealed the action in Oxford County Superior Court.

A mediation session is set for early June between the town and Mazzaglia in an attempt to resolve the disputed appraisal.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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