Renovated Havre de Grace Opera House slated to open in June

Anyone from the Havre de Grace arts community can participate in the collective to manage the opera house

The Havre de Grace Opera House is on track to open to the public in June with the completion of a nearly $4 million, two-year renovation of the historic downtown building.

Workers with Lewis Contractors, of Owings Mills, have been upgrading the exterior and interior of a building that dates to 1871 and at one time was been used as Havre de Grace's city hall.

The city still owns the building and would be responsible for facility maintenance.

The renovations started in late June 2015, when workers focused on the exterior, and the building was surrounded by scaffolding.

Workers have, as of late February, completed the majority of the interior wood framing, HVAC and plumbing, according to a notice on the city's website.

New structural steel has been installed, and work continues on masonry and the interior color palette.

An atrium connecting the opera house and the neighboring Susquehanna Hose Company House 2 is under construction.

The atrium will have an elevator, which planners expect people with disabilities can use to get to either the theater on the second floor of the opera house or the meeting hall on the second floor of the firehouse.

An elevator shaft has been installed, workers must still hang drywall on the interior walls, and most of the materials for the opera house, such as seating, lighting, sound systems, have been ordered, according to Patrick Sypolt, director of administration for the city.

"Most of the materials for the opera house have been chosen and ordered, and now it's just a matter of putting it all together," Sypolt said Wednesday.

The building is in the 100 block of North Union Avenue, across the street from the new two-story Havre de Grace Library.

Improvements include expanded seating, making the facility accessible to people with disabilities, the HVAC system and making the building available for local and regional productions.

"It's going to be great, and we're going to try to have the lights on as much as we can and bring commerce and economic vitality to our city and arts and entertainment to our district," Mayor Bill Martin said during Monday's City Council meeting.

Funds have been raised through private donations, city, county and state contributions, while the largest share comes from $2.1 million in bond funds the city borrowed. The bond was approved by Havre de Grace voters during a referendum in 2016.

Martin said he recently met with the contractor and took a tour of the facility.

"It will open on time; it will open on budget," he said.

The Havre de Grace Opera House Foundation has been overseeing the renovation project, as well as fundraising, since an architect was hired in July 2012.

One member of the foundation's board took issue with the news that the city is working with representatives of multiple community arts organizations to form the Havre de Grace Arts Collective, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that would be responsible for the day-to-day operations.

The collective would create a board of directors and hire an executive director who would handle booking performances and fundraising.

Baxter Leppert, who has been a member of the foundation since it was formed, said he learned of that plan during a meeting with city officials several weeks ago.

"This is very disheartening," Leppert said during the public comment portion of Monday's council meeting. "It sounds like the same old good-old-boy way of running business where somebody knows somebody and it's pushed through."

Leppert said he was angered that the Tidewater Players, which has been Havre de Grace's primary community theater company for more than 25 years and has been headquartered at the opera house, was not invited to be a part of the Arts Collective.

"I'm mad about it, I'm hurt about it, and I think it's wrong," he said.

Martin took Leppert to task for his use of the term "good old boy way," and he stressed anyone is welcome to be part of the collective, including the Tidewater Players.

"Tidewater Players, I'm telling you as mayor, you are welcome to have a seat on the Arts Collective board," Martin said, addressing Tidewater Players representatives in the audience.

The mayor stressed that, while the city owns the opera house, it is not in the entertainment business, and a separate group with that expertise is needed to manage that facility.

Sypolt reiterated that sentiment Wednesday. He noted the collective is still being formed, and the MOU has not been finalized, but both are scheduled to be ready by the time the opera house opens in June.

He made the presentation about the plans to create a collective during the meeting Leppert and others attended, but he noted "it was not to say that this is cast in stone."

Sypolt stressed anyone in the local arts community is encouraged to be part of the management collective, including the Tidewater Players and members of the Opera House Foundation.

"Anyone who has an interest in public art or performing arts is welcome to participate," he said.

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