City attorney Tom O'Neill reviews a draft of a memorandum of understanding with council at Thursday's meeting. The MOU calls for the creation of a city council-appointed Colonial Theatre Board.

Colonial Theatre Board to operate as publicly funded entity

BUCKHANNON – A soon-to-be-established Colonial Theatre Board will operate as a public agency and advisory board to Buckhannon City Council.

City attorney Tom O’Neill at Thursday’s city council meeting briefed city council members on a memorandum of understanding he had drafted regarding the maintenance, operation and governance of the historic Colonial Theatre once it’s open on a regular basis.

The theatre has been undergoing renovation since the City of Buckhannon purchased it in January 2017, and as work on the arts and culture facility wraps up, O’Neill said he wanted to highlight some of the main elements in the MOU, which will be on council’s agenda for consideration at its first meeting in February.

The theatre is designed to serve as a visual and performing arts center for local youth and the entire Buckhannon-Upshur community. When city officials opted to purchase the building, located at 48 E. Main Street in 2017, they envisioned it incorporating space for a stage/performing arts, an art gallery, space in which art classes in a variety of mediums could be taught and more.

“This memorandum of understanding will be on the Feb. 4 council meeting agenda for your consideration, but I wanted to give you an overview so you could have it,” O’Neill said. “This says the Colonial Theatre will operate as a public body with a board of directors.”

The memo also says while the City of Buckhannon “will maintain ownership and ultimate responsibility for the operations of the theatre” in a way that will “primarily serve to promote arts education and performance in the greater Buckhannon-Upshur community,” the city will delegate day-to-day management of the operations of the theatre to a Colonial Theatre Board.

The board will be comprised of five people appointed by city council, three of whom must be individuals active in the city and county arts community; all five board members must reside in Upshur County.

“The Board shall conduct itself as a public agency, observing the requirements of open meetings laws, ethics acts and other directive that the City of Buckhannon is required to observe,” the MOU states.

O’Neill pointed out the memo says city council has the final word on hiring any paid full-time or part-time positions and must approve or disapprove the board’s expenditures. All revenue generated by the theatre will be transmitted to the city.

“So, in other words, the board is effectively an advisory committee, and the city remains the fiduciary agent,” O’Neill said. “No financial decisions may be made by the board without city council’s approval.”

While no firm date is listed for the theatre’s grand opening, the MOU makes it clear that the city wants the theatre to become financially independent with a year to a year-and-a-half.

“It is the intention of the City of Buckhannon to promote the operations of the theatre in a manner that will enable the theatre to be self-sufficient within a period of 12-18 months following its grand opening, taking into consideration the limitations on operations imposed by COVID-19 restrictions including public health mandates,” the memorandum says.

Councilwoman Pam Bucklew asked if she could recommend someone for the board, and mayor Robbie Skinner said all council members could submit recommendations for appointees to the board, but council as a whole will need to approve the five members.

According to the memo, the initial Colonial Theatre Board will be appointed within 30 days of council approving the MOU at its Feb. 4 meeting. Members won’t be compensated monetarily, O’Neill noted, unlike board members of the city’s enterprise funds, the Water Board, Waste Board and Sanitary Sewer Board, for example.

Both councilwoman Mary Albaugh and city recorder Randy Sanders said they were glad the board was being established.

“I think we need to be wrapping that project up and putting a bow on it,” Sanders remarked.

In January 2017, the city purchased the historic Colonial Theatre – which had mostly recently housed a string of bars – for $60,000 from property owner Catherine Cuppari. The same year, the city was awarded an $102,000 West Virginia Division Culture and History grant and two years later in 2019, received another $67,000 grant from the W.Va. Department of Arts, Culture and History. The Buckhannon Community Theatre and First Energy – among number other beneficiaries – have financially supported the project.

Read more about the history and renovation of the Colonial Theatre here.

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