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NORWAY — Stabilizing the town-owned Norway Opera House has proven to be a more expensive job than was originally thought.
"It's not that they've run short ... It's that there's more work that needs to be done," said Chairwoman Irene Millett.
The bad news has forced town leaders to take the unusual move of committing a significant amount of reserve funds, based on a promise that future fund-raising efforts of a nonprofit group will be able to repay the town.
Months after the town accepted a $156,000 bid from Chabot's Construction Company to perform various projects related to preserving the historic structure, engineers have determined that a significant portion of the rear brick wall is out of plumb, necessitating an additional $60,000 expenditure in order to prevent a risk of collapse.
A diagram circulated by Town Manager David Holt showed that some bricks are bulging as much as 10 inches further out than they should be.
"In the middle section, they're eight, 10 inches out of plumb," said Holt. "We believe that is dangerous."
The board agreed to put up the dough, pending reimbursement from the Norway Maine Opera House Corporation (NMOHC).
"I need to tell you that, while I recommend this and feel it's the right course of action, it does do something that we normally don't do here in the town of Norway," said Town Manager David Holt, "and that's make a commitment based on somebody else's commitment."
The NMOHC was formed to help preserve the historic structure. Members are currently working to raise $50,000 that was previously committed to attract $150,000 in matching Community Development Block Grant funding.
"They've made some progress, " said Holt. "They've hired a professional fundraiser, Bill Stockwell from Waterford ... and they seem to be putting in a lot of energy into raising the money."
For the most part, board members expressed confidence that the money would be repaid.
"I know Bill Stockwell personally, and I have good faith in Bill," said Selectman Mike Twitchell.
Andrea Burns of Norway Downtown said that the commitment would be met very soon.
"The Steering Committee of the NMOHC that met on Tuesday has committed to raising those funds by the end of January, so there wouldn't be a long time commitment of town money paying bills," said Burns."I realize that's an incredibly optimistic goal, but that is the commitment of many people, and the work has been planned, and people are being solicited, and it will all be private-funded by the end of January."
In the interim, the money is being paid from the town's surplus accounts.
"Surplus is greater than it was a year or two ago," said Holt. "We have access to the funds, if needed."
A portion of the top center of the rear wall will be removed, and replaced with a temporary back wall, made of metal studs, plywood, and vinyl siding.
"I talked to the contractor," said Selectman Russell Newcomb. "... he was trying to do it at the best price possible, and he was making a lot of concessions on his normal price."
To rebuild the back wall with bricks immediately would cost $250,000, according to Holt.
"I can be hopeful that this will be the ending point," said Holt.
Millett said "Paying the cleanup if it collapsed or to tear it down would be a lot more than $60,000," so no matter how we look at it, monies will be spent.
Newcomb said that the additional work was not recognized during the initial assessment of the project.
"In the earlier stages of the planning, it was kind of a guesstimate as to how much the back wall was out of plumb," said Newcomb, "... because of lack of equipment, when they did the guesstimate, [engineers] couldn't actually site that with a laser to tell how far out of plumb it was."
The board voted unanimously to accept the commitment from the Norway Opera House Corporation.
Burns spoke to the value of the building to the community.
"The people who are committed to it see it as the economic engine of Norway's downtown," said Burns. "That makes it unique, a quality of place, a heritage that we otherwise would not have."
"If we get into Spring and they haven't raised the money," said Holt, "then we have to deal with that when we get to it."