Town gets grant for Opera House

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NORWAY – The town has received a $150,000 grant to stabilize the three-story brick Opera House, Town Manager David Holt said Monday.

“This doesn’t save the Opera House. What it does is it keeps it upright,” he said. He described the stabilization process as a “first step” toward maintaining the 1894 building that the town now owns.

The centerpiece of the downtown historic district has been in danger of collapsing since a portion of the roof caved in in 2007. Two engineering studies since then have deemed it “unsafe to the public and neighboring property.”

The state Community Development Block Grant will be combined with $50,000 donated by the Norway Opera House Corporation, Holt said. The project is estimated to cost $200,000.

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Holt said town officials must now submit paperwork and go through various processes with the Department of Economic and Community Development in the next four to six weeks before the project can go out to bid.

The town will be looking for a contractor who has experience in working with “big, old brick buildings,” he said. 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.

“I’m really pleased to have the state award this,” Holt said. “I think it’s largely because of the participation local people have put into it.”

Earlier this year, voters authorized the selectmen to initiate eminent domain proceedings and use $200,000 donated by Norway Selectman Bill Damon and his wife, Beatrice, to compensate Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprises of Londerry, N.H., for the property. Mazzaglia,  who bought it in 2003 for $225,000, appealed the action in Oxford County Superior Court in Paris.

“It’s the interpretation of our attorney that we own it,” Holt said Monday. A sum of $185,000 was handed over to the court to compensate Mazzaglia, he said.

Officials say that once the Opera House is stabilized, they intend to turn it over to someone who has the resources to continue renovations and hopefully revitalize it.

The Opera House was built by the Norway Building Association, then owned by the town from 1920 to the mid-1970s, and then by a succession of private owners for the past 30 years or so. The ballroom and balcony on the upper floors played host to the community life of Norway, including concerts, dances, traveling minstrel shows, theater performances, National Guard musters, town meetings and high school graduation ceremonies. The top stories have been unused since a movie theater closed in the 1970s, and the five ground-floor storefronts have had occupants off and on over the years. No one has occupied it since the roof collapse.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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