The Derry Opera House received welcome news last week, a $20,000 state grant to help fund painting and plaster repair at the historic Adams Memorial Building downtown.
But it’s a drop in the paint bucket when considering the estimated $150,000 in renovations needed to the roof and balcony area, closed late last year over safety concerns. That put about 100 of the 375 seats off limits for the time being.
Derry has a real downtown gem in the Adams Building, a gift to the town from local lumber baron Benjamin Adams 110 years ago.
The building has served many roles, from courthouse to town offices, from library to school. But it’s always been home to the Opera House.
Not many New Hampshire towns can lay claim to a downtown opera house in operation for more than a century. It ought to be enough to draw people to Broadway on a regular basis and the town ought to tout its presence at every opportunity.
Somehow, it doesn’t.
Last week, Londonderry High School drama students had the place shaking. Clad in leather and pink satin bomber jackets, the students rocked the rafters with “You’re the One I want” and “We Go Together.”
Londonderry students performing in Derry? Yes, because their high school lacks an auditorium.
The Opera House routinely hosts community and children’s theater performances, dance recitals, concerts, pageants, even presidential candidates.
But the town and the Derry Arts Council need to do a better job promoting what’s happening up on the second floor and less time bemoaning what downtown doesn’t have, namely parking.
People are willing to walk and there are plenty of municipal parking spaces available most evenings. It could be as simple as patrons being unaware of nearby spaces. Simple solution: Get some high school kids to put in a few hours of community service and direct audience members to what’s available.
The town has invested a lot in the Opera House — many times over.
The Adams building benefited from a major renovation in 2000 — new heating and air conditioning systems, an elevator, sprinklers and new restrooms, at a cost of $1.5 million.
The building, on the National Register of Historical Places since 1982, also houses the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, the Derry Housing Authority and the town museum.
Public works director Mike Fowler was scheduled to address the Town Council this week on $150,000 in proposed renovations. A public hearing will be held early next month.
The town has about $20,000 in the budget and the remaining $130,000 could be drawn from a capital reserve fund, according to Fowler, so taxpayers wouldn’t feel any direct impact. The plan calls for the work to be done in August.
In January 1914, a devastating fire all but destroyed the building. On Feb. 7, 1914, residents voter to spend the money and rebuild.
The Town Council and residents should follow suit and fund needed repairs now.
The building ought to be regarded as the gem it is. All it needs is a little polishing, including a reinvigorated publicity campaign to let residents and those from surrounding communities know all that it has to offer.