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Opera House repairs more invasive

ABOVE: A look out into the audience from the Fairmont Opera House stage as repairs are being made to the facility. As more invasive repairs are needed, the facility will be closed to the public for the entirety of 2024.

FAIRMONT– In October it was announced that the historic Fairmont Opera House would switch to limited in-facility operations while necessary repairs were made to its roof. However, based on new findings by structural engineers, the Opera House will now be closed to the public for the foreseeable future while those repairs are made.

The Fairmont Opera House’s executive director, Blake Potthoff, said that the project has become more invasive than originally expected as the number of columns holding up the roof have needed to be doubled.

As a result of that, all of the bathrooms in the facility have needed to be demoed and none are accessible, nor are the dressing rooms.

“Getting in and out of the facility for any of the performances would be unadvisable,” Potthoff said.

All of the events that have been scheduled for 2024 have been cancelled. Instead, Pottthoff said they are dedicating time, energy and financial resources to the project.

“It’s increasing the scope of work and in the financial scope as well– significantly. It’s inflated to several million dollars for the repairs,” Potthoff said.

He did extend a thank-you to Cutting Edge Fitness and Grace Lutheran Church which have allowed the Opera House to put on December shows in their facilities. However, as he previously said, moving forward the Opera House is focusing on the current project.

This is likely the most significant project the Opera House has undergone. It was built at the very beginning of the 1900s and in the late 1920s there were significant renovations done and again in the 1970s.

“There’s only been four major capital renovations in its lifespan,” Potthoff said.

Samantha Werre, vice chair of the board of directors, said, “Part of the challenge is with how old the facility is. When they open things up they’re learning more and more about what’s there.”

The changes to the project have made board members and employees of the Opera House change their viewpoint on fundraising as they’re now going about it more strategically.

“It’s no longer about, ‘this is simple we can do it.’ It makes the long-term picture of the facility more difficult to continue to look at. It’s very critical,” Potthoff said of the project.

He pointed out that in addition to paying for the repairs, while the work is being done rent still needs to be paid and the light and heat still needs to be on in the facility.

“Our performances cover 20 percent of our annual revenue. Without performances, we have 20 percent of our revenue we need to make up somehow,” Potthoff said.

In being strategic, he said they’re expanding where they look to for funds and not just searching locally, but looking for people who want to give an impactful gift.

“It’s not an impossible project. It’s a level of improbable… but it’s a worthwhile investment for people to give money to,” Potthoff said.

He did say he hopes that the repairs, which will likely be done in two parts, will be completed by the time of the facility’s 125th anniversary in 2026. However, he stressed that the timing of the project is money-dependent and that the project will be done when the money required for it is raised.

“There’s no cheap, quick answer. There’s so much unknown and unknown is not cheaper and not quicker,” Potthoff said.

Katelyn Langwith, administrative assistant at the Fairmont Opera House, said that in addition to monetary donations, they’re also in need of volunteers to help raise the funds.

“A lot of people really love this place. We need them to be able to show us and the rest of the community how much they love it to help us further the mission,” Langwith said.

More information about the progress of the facility’s project will be made available on the Fairmont Opera House’s website. Those who wish to make a donation to the project can do so at fairmontoperahouse.org/capital-donate.

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