The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 12, 2012

Most visible phase of Colonial Fox Theatre renovations set to begin

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

PITTSBURG, Kan. — With enough pledges in hand, a match from the Save America’s Treasures program and a competitive bid awarded to a local contractor, the historic Colonial Fox Theatre is about to take on its most visible phase of renovation yet.

It could mean the historic downtown building would be open in limited fashion as early as next spring.

The Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation has awarded the $304,400 project to the general contractor, Home Center Construction. Half of the project will be paid for with local donations, while half will be paid for with matching funds from an award from the SAT program.

“We just need to send the contract to the National Park Service for approval, and then Phase 5 will start immediately,” said Vonnie Corsini, executive director of the foundation, on Friday morning.

Home Center Construction, which earlier this year completed the removal of water from the theater’s basement and interior structural repair, might begin work as early as the end of October.

Subcontractors include Seward Electric and Heikes Masonry.

Renovations will focus mostly on the east exterior during this phase: new entry doors and tempered glass will be installed all the way up to the existing arch, allowing for the removal of a “chicken wire wall” and making the front entrance weather-tight. The arch itself also will be repaired.

The exterior of the ticket booth will be renovated, including replication of historic tile and other elements to maintain a look of authenticity.

“Those who pass by will see a significant difference before and after,” said Sarah Jensen, the theater’s marketing director. “It will give them a glimpse of what is yet to come on the inside.”

In addition, new emergency doors will be installed on the west facade, or the rear of the building, and electrical service will be installed for the entire theater including wall outlets. Both of those projects will bring the life safety elements up to code, Corsini said, which is the only barrier to the theater gaining an occupancy permit.

“Up until now, we haven’t been able to take groups into it except on very small tours of 20 people or less that literally just go in and come right back out. There have been extension cords laying everywhere so temporary work lights can be on, and they are running off of a 50-amp electrical breaker box in the office next door,” Corsini said. “So this is really, really big.”

Foundation officials credited their ability to sign the construction contract to the efforts of foundation members, who have contributed more than $32,000 — ranging in increments from $1 to $1,000 — since last November.

In recent months they also have received a four-year, $25,000 grant from the Pritchett Family Trust and $25,000 each from two donors who wished to remain anonymous, and Tuesday night received a $45,000 Community Development block grant from the city of Pittsburg.

The gifts total $152,000 and will go into effect immediately, Corsini said, to be matched by the funds awarded to the theater by the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program. That leaves $248,000 yet to be matched by private donors, or the theater risks losing the remainder of the funds set aside by the NPS-SAT. The deadline is Oct. 31.

“I am confident we will succeed,” Corsini said.

Next phase

Provided funding — or at least pledges — is in place, the bids might be sought for Phase 6, which would overhaul the theater’s heating and air conditioning systems, before the end of the year.