By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DOVER-FOXCROFT - A dramatic performance is being played inside Center Theatre as the building gets a total upgrade. Contractors and volunteers have replaced the heating system and the electrical entrance, have insulated the walls, constructed a new stage, and replaced the roof over the entire building as the first act.
Approximately $700,000 has been spent to date to bring the circa 1938 building to life as a performing arts center.
Now Center Theatre directors are gearing up for the second act, which will finish the interior of the auditorium, lobby and restrooms and install a sprinkler system.
Charleston Correctional Facility inmates now are installing drywall in the facility, but about $500,000 more is needed to complete the renovation project that began a year ago.
"It's a lot closer now than we were a year ago," Rollin Thurlow, chairman of the board of directors, said Saturday. "We've taking a long-term approach to it."
Many supporters believe the theater will rejuvenate the downtown, drawing people from afar for its performances.
The theater, constructed by Sidney Epstein of Bangor, operated as a movie theater until November 1973. Once part of the former Graphic Theatre Circuit of Boston, it was purchased in the mid-1960s by Glen Wheaton of Pittsfield.
Wheaton did massive remodeling and operated the theater until 1973, when he was forced to close it because of financial problems at another theater he owned in Pittsfield.
The building remained vacant - with the exception of a small bakery that occupied the lobby for a few years - until local residents organized and purchased it with $105,000 from their collective pockets.
The rest of the money has been raised through a $500,000 municipal bond and grants. In addition, the project has received generous donations of in-kind support from local contractors and volunteers.
"The board is deeply invested and committed to getting the project done," Thurlow said.
A "seat drive" which involves a pledge of $500 for a nameplate on the back of a seat has raised about $30,000, but could well raise $175,000.
The 350 theater seats were donated by Epstein and are being stored in a barn. Thurlow said families, organizations and individuals are encouraged to send a donation of $500 to have their names on the back of the seats.
The group also has been approved for a $100,000 Municipal Investment Trust Fund if residents approve the submission of an application at a special town meeting on Jan. 26. The town will serve as a pass-through agent for the trust funds.
Directors hope the approximately 300 members can raise the remainder through foundations and federal grants. Thurlow told selectmen last week that federal grants could provide up to $250,000 for the project.
Programming has been started by Center Theatre directors, but most of the events have been held in other buildings pending the completion of renovation work.
The more volunteer help and donations that can be given, the quicker the project will come to conclusion, Thurlow said. Anyone willing to provide either can call Thurlow at 564-3667.