BUCKHANNON – The gallery at the Colonial Theater was set to open this past Saturday, March 14, for an Upshur County Schools-wide Youth Art Exhibition.
However, concerns over the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, forced the show to be postponed. In the meantime, Mayor David McCauley took My Buckhannon and other media outlets on a tour of the renovation and explained what’s been done – and what’s yet to come.
McCauley said the gallery portion of the theater will be utilized to display art in the future and give the art community a place to have meetings or gather.
“This is for display of two dimensional and three-dimensional art,” McCauley said. “However, there will also be a ginormous table in the middle here at some point in time, that will permit groups for as many as 50 folks to have a meeting in here. I would envision like the Strawberry Festival Board of Directors, Art 26201, possibly the Buckhannon-Upshur Camera Club because this space is for all things arts.”
He said the entire theater project is inching “slowly, but surely” to completion and they are about a year-and-a-half from completion. The project has raised around $400,000 so far, but it’s now expected to cost upwards of $700,000. City officials initially estimated the renovation would cost about $495,000.
“We’re doing it on a pay-as-we-go basis, and there’s been no incurrence of any debt and everything we’ve realized is from gifts and grants, other than some in-kind city labor to make it come to be, but from a materials perspective, everything has been through gifts and grants,” McCauley said.
He said the rest of the theater is also going to be a home of the arts for the community. The basement will house eight studio salons for children to learn about art.
“We’re talking voice and instrumental lessons, charcoal drawing, drone photography, graphic arts, and somebody mentioned, ‘could there be a wicker chair maker in here?’ Sure. Why not?” McCauley said. “The other half of the basement will mostly be utilized for costume and set storage for Buckhannon Community Theatre and possibly other groups.”
The third floor of the theater will have a smaller live performing arts area that can seat about 100 people, but it will also be a cinema.
“We’ll be able to show like movies – not cutting-edge current movies, but Gregg Popovich in the college wants to partner with us and sponsor like a Friday or Saturday night chiller theater,” McCauley said.
He said now that they are so close, they can really start to plan out each room of the theater and their purposes.
“We’ve spent a lot of time and resources creating the infrastructure that you have to have before you, and now we can actually start identifying the room space and seeing the room space in the gallery that’s now 98 percent complete, come together, ‘it’s like, wow,’” McCauley said. “Now we have the big theater, we have the gallery, we’ll finish the restrooms and the concession area on the first floor and then we’ll move upstairs and downstairs and do the rest.”
Several years ago, the city purchased the historic Colonial Theatre – which had mostly recently housed a string of bars – for $60,000 from property owner Catherine Cuppari. Then, in 2017, the city was awarded an $102,000 West Virginia Division of Culture and History grant in 2017.
Most recently, in July of 2019, the city got word that the Colonial Theatre renovation project will be awarded an additional $67,000 from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, & History for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2020 and wraps up June 30, 2021.