Restoring class and beauty - Colonial Theatre renovations begin

Colonial 17Mar16234553 DSDuring a construction tour, Superintendent Bob Ferguson from Bonnett, Page and Stone shines his flashlight to into the upper balcony stage area of the Colonial Theatre in downtown Laconia.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Colonial 17Mar16234558 DSThe upper balcony ceiling of the Colonial Theatre in downtown Laconia.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)




LACONIA — Work restore the Colonial Theatre to its original glory is underway as a crew from Bonnette, Page & Stone Corporation has begun removing the walls and ceilings that have divided the auditorium, and obscuring its ornate decor for the past three decades.
Bob Ferguson, who is supervising the work, said he has contributed to restoring a number of historic buildings around the state, including the Gale Memorial Building that houses the Laconia Public Library, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but added "this is a once-in-a-lifetime job."
Built by Benjamin Piscopo, the theater opened in April 1914. Its colorful frescoes, marbled floors, ornate plasterwork and gilded finishes fashioned by Italian artisans placed it squarely among the grandest entertainment venues in New England. After the First World War, live performances steadily gave way to motion pictures, and in 1983 the auditorium was partitioned, horizontally and vertically, into five theaters, shrouding the finishes behind blank walls.
The first step will be to remove all the partitions, the dropped ceiling and the five projection booths to open the auditorium and balconies.
"It was so cool when we took the screen down to open the stage all up," Ferguson said, pointing to the gilded proscenium arch above the stage, which remains halved by a partition and ceiling that remain to be removed.
Although Ferguson referred to the work as "demolition," he granted that it is more akin to "disassembly," stressing that "We're taking great care not to damage anything any worse than it already is."
He said that working in a darkened space with limited but targeted lighting is challenging.
Ferguson said that once the auditorium is emptied of the partitions and accretions added over the years, an assessment will be made to determine the extent and estimate the cost of restoring it.
The auditorium represents about 20,000 square feet of a property that measures 38,642 square feet shared among three buildings sitting on a half-acre with 91 feet of frontage on Main Street and 209 feet frontage on Canal Street. In addition to the theater, the property includes four storefronts on Main Street, each about 1,500 square feet; five commercial units on Canal Street, ranging between 250 and 1,500 square feet; and 18 apartments on the second and third floors of the Building on Main Street.
Although what Ferguson called "loose items," including appliances, furniture and the like, are being removed from the residential units, work has not yet begun to renovate them.
Last year, the entire complex was acquired by 609 Main Street LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Belknap Economic Development Council, for $1.4 million, borrowing the purchase price from the city of Laconia for a term of no more than 18 months with interim payments of interest only. The Belknap Economic Development Council is arranging a package of approximately $15 million to finance the renovation of the entire property. The package will include repayment of the first loan from the city and a second borrowing from the city of between $2 million and $3 million, again with payments of interest only, for a term of seven years,
Once the theater is renovated and restored, the city will lease it as the sole tenant for seven years, operating it as a civic auditorium. After seven years, the city will have the option to acquire the theater, but not the residential and commercial units on the property, by forgiving its outstanding loan to the Belknap Economic Development Council.

Colonial 17Mar16234582 DSWalls start to come down in the balcony area of the Colonial Theatre as restoration work begins. This view shows how the theater was divided in the 1980s, creating five separate theaters. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Colonial 17Mar16234487 DSSuperintendent Bob Ferguson from Bonnett, Page and Stone explains the scope of work in progress inside the main level theater as walls begin to come down during beginning stages of renovation project.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia

BEDC: Colonial project is one of largest in state


LACONIA — Belknap Economic Development Council Chairman Randy Eifert says that a key element in the organization's acquisition of the Colonial Theatre was the city's decision to step up to the plate and loan the money to BEDC which made the purchase possible.
Speaking at then organization's 24th annual meeting at Lakes Region Community College Wednesday night Eifert said that the $15 million restoration and renovation project is one of the largest community development projects in the entire state and is the result of "'getting the right people at the table and having the vision and resources" to make it possible.
"The Colonial Theatre deal showed what our board is capable of," said Eifert, who said that 2015 was a historic year for the organization which in recent years has shifted its strategy to one of becoming more of a catalyst for economic development.
"Many good people have tried before to acquire the Colonial," he said, maintaining that the group's ability to access grants and tax credits makes it an invaluable partner for the county.
He said that the organization's spinoff, 609 Main Street, is managing the transition of the property where the city will become the sole tenant once the renovation project is completed.
Eifert said $5 million in tax credits will help finance the project and that historic project tax credits and state tax credits will also be available. He said that a drive to raise $2 million to $3 million in private funds will be launched later this year.
Work has started on removing the partitions which turned the one-time 1,200-seat theater into five smaller theaters in the 1980s.
The Norman Marsh Award for support of policies promoting the region's economic growth was presented to former BEDC Chairman Henry Lipman, a Laconia Ward 3 City councilman and senior vice president of LRGHealthcare, who was credited with helping the organization refocus its priorities to a more active role in economic growth,
BEDC Executive Director Justin Slattery said that the organization's 200 by 2020 initiative, which was established to provide internships for high school students, has already surpassed its goal and has been an outstanding success.
Three new directors were installed; Chris Kelly of Bayside ReMax Real Estate, Steven Geer of Geer and Associates and Ron Magoon of Franklin Savings Bank.
Four new incorporators were installed; Allison Ambrose of Wescott Law, Jude Hamel of Prescott Farm, Scott Littlefield of Profile Bank and Valerie Fraser, a state representative from New Hampton.

 03-16 lipman

Laconia Mayor Ed Engler presents the Norman Marsh Award to former Belknap Economic Development Council chairman Henry Lipman. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Most people arrested in drug sweep already out on bail


LACONIA — Twenty-five of the people who were targeted by a wide-sweeping drug bust last week have been arrested, but many are already out on bail, police officials told Laconia police commissioners Thursday.
Detective Lt. Thomas Swett told commissioners that the department is still looking for eight people for whom they hold outstanding warrants.

Commissioner Armand Maheux said that it "must be discouraging" for the police officers who worked so hard on the warrants and arrests to know that 13 of those 16 picked up that day by Laconia police were released on personal recognizance bail.

"It's like they almost laugh at you," Maheux said.

Commissioner Thomas Tarr, who participated by telephone because he is out of the state, said Maheux was "right on the money."

Tarr wanted to know how much, if any, pretrial supervision each was getting and Swett responded that there is very little pretrial supervision available for people who haven't been convicted of the crime.

"They're still considered innocent," he said.

Swett said, historically, a high number of the arrestees will appear in court for their arraignment and trial.

Chief Christopher Adams said that working with the drug community and with victims of drug overdoses in general can take its toll on all police officers. He said that often times police must give CPR to someone until emergency crews arrive.

"We keep our eyes and ears open and we have sessions for officers who undergo a particularly stressful or catastrophic event," he said, adding that CPR falls under that category.

Adams went on to say that so far this year, Laconia is doing fairly well, with eight or nine overdoses and one death until this past weekend, when there were four overdoses in the city with one reported fatality. He said that Northfield also reported two overdoses and said the problem is taking its toll everywhere and not just on larger, city police departments.

When asked by Tarr if any of the people who have overdosed on drugs have done it before, Adams said that it is "not uncommon for people to overdose over and over again."

He said there was one man who lived in the city that was administered Narcan by emergency crews about five times last year but he, unfortunately, died.

When Tarr asked if Narcan is the correct way to approach the problem, Adams said it gives addicts a lifeline so they can survive and hopefully seek help or treatment, which could mean waiting for a bed in a rehabilitation facility somewhere in the state.

Adams added that along those lines, Laconia's Prevention, Education, and Treatment Officer Eric Adams will be awarded with the New Hampshirre Public Health Association's annual Friend of Public Health Award at a ceremony on April 13 at the Christa McAuliffe Center in Concord.

Adams will be honored for all of his work within the community helping to get assistance for those who have drug problems and for his outreach efforts to educate people against drugs and drug abuse.