, Derry, New Hampshire

January 16, 2014

Derry's historic Opera House needs repairs

Safety concerns close balcony seating at historic opera house

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — The balcony is closed for now.

The upper seating area of the historic Adams Memorial Opera House is off limits until repairs can be made to ensure safety for those attending performances.

The historic Opera House, located within the Adams Memorial Building on West Broadway, is a community gem, many say, and is one of the “603 Reasons” readers said New Hampshire is special.

But a recent inspection of the space revealed some areas in need of repair, according to Public Works Director Michael Fowler.

“We looked at the stage area, the ceiling,” he said. “Engineers came back and said (it was) a difficult situation, with some over-stressing of beams.”

The stage area also needs reinforcement, Fowler said, and the roof needs repair. Insulation will be added to enhance the building’s energy efficiency.

When benefactor Benjamin Adams left money to erect his namesake building in the early part of the 20th century, the plan was to make it a downtown space for offices, public library and police, with room on the upper floor for a theater and stage.

A $1.5 million renovation project was completed in 2000, giving the Adams Building new heating and air conditioning systems, an elevator, sprinkler and new restrooms.

As part of that project, the Opera House also received a refurbished balcony and restored theater-style seating.

Town officials still work to keep the building as a viable part of the downtown and get more people in the door to use its 350-seat opera house.

That includes keeping the space safe and in good shape.

Several groups call the town-owned Adams Building home, including the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Greater Derry Arts Council, and Derry’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Those groups pay rent to the town. The Arts Council does some of its own work to keep the Opera House in good shape, including simple painting or other jobs, Fowler said. Major projects are the town’s responsibility.

“We just didn’t anticipate the scope of what we found,” Fowler said. “But the building is still open.”

Much of the more serious work needed will keep the balcony closed indefinitely, Fowler said. That takes away about 100 seats that could be filled for shows.

David Nelson of the Greater Derry Arts Council said having the upper space closed will affect the life of the Opera House.

“The impact on some shows is substantial,” he said, “specifically the shows that sell out or nearly fill the house.”

Nelson said losing 100 potential ticket sales hurts.

“For some shows, that means turning away any potential purchasers or adding an additional performance to make up for the shortfall,” he said.

The projects may cost upward of $125,000. Fowler said he would bring the request before Town Council as part of the budget process for fiscal year 2015. Work could begin once the new fiscal year starts.