NORWAY — Opera House stabilization project contractors have discovered the back wall is bulging out as much as 10 inches.

“The building is like a big unknown,” said Town Manager David Holt, who asked the Board of Selectmen at its meeting Thursday to temporarily take $60,000 from the town’s surplus fund to pay for the additional unforeseen work.

The Norway Maine Opera House Corp. has committed to pay the town back by the end of January through private donations.

“There’s no perfect or good decision,” Selectman Russ Newcomb said as the board unanimously agreed to use town money on a temporary basis.

While the town’s $156,550 contract with Chabot Construction of Greene to stabilize the building’s interior included removing the top 8 feet of the back outside wall, an alternative bid plan had been developed in case that work found additional problems, said Paul Chabot, owner of Chabot Construction. Chabot Construction was the low bidder out of three companies who bid for the stabilization job. His bid came about $200,000 less than the other two bids.

“You don’t know what you have until you open up the can and see how full it is. It was full,” said Chabot in a telephone interview Thursday night. A full 21 feet of the top of the back wall will now have to be removed, he said.

The bricks will be taken out one by one and replaced with steel studs and plywood as a temporary measure, Holt said.

A portion of the Opera House roof collapsed on Sept. 21, 2007, severing a sprinkler pipe which flooded first-floor occupied spaces in the building and compromised the stability of the building.

Two engineering studies later showed the structure was “unsafe to the public and neighboring property.”

Fearful the building would collapse and send thousands of bricks into the Pennesseewassee Stream that flows directly behind the building or fall into the path of an estimated 12,000 cars that pass on Main Street every day, officials decided they had to take action to temporarily stabilize the 17,618-square-foot building.

Much of that work, which has been paid for without using taxpayer’s money, was completed over the last few weeks.

“We believe the risk of snow load collapsing the building is much less now with the supports,”  Holt said.

The second phase of the stabilization project is expected to get under way shortly.

Once the building is stabilized, it will be turned over to the nonprofit Norway Maine Opera House Corp., which will then decide the future of the building.

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