The 125-year-old Memorial Opera House will soon be getting spruced up and a possible expansion that will help preserve the landmark for years to come, at an estimated cost of around $3 million.
The Porter County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a motion to accept a feasibility study for the building’s rehabilitation by Schmidt Associates.
“What we wanted to do today is accept this feasibility study and make it a point of record,” said Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center, adding the Memorial Opera House’s foundation board was “very helpful” in stepping up with a match for the preservation grant that paid for the study.
Officials with the county and the opera house have been working with Indianapolis-based Schmidt Associates since January, said Scot MacDonald, the opera house’s business director.
“We are very, very pleased with the results of the study,” he said. “It gives us a very solid footprint and idea for what needs to be done for the restoration and possible expansion of the building.”
Desma Belsaas, a principal with Schmidt, echoed commissioners when she called the opera house, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, “a gem.”
“It is a great, great building you have here,” she said of the opera house, at 104 E. Indiana Ave., which was dedicated on Nov. 28, 1893.
Despite its age, Belsaas said that the opera house remains structurally sound. The priorities for the restorative work include repairing and repointing the exterior walls; repairing and repainting the exterior windows and doors; replacing the mechanical systems; and replacing the mechanical control systems.
That work would total about $1.5 million.
Additionally, said Belsaas, the feasibility study recommends an expansion to the west, between the opera house and the Porter County Museum, since the building is landlocked. The expansion would include restroom, as well as opening up room for seating, and would connect the two structures.
The expansion, she added, would take some finesse, because the buildings are different heights.
The expansion, Good said, would provide bathrooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for both the museum and the opera house. That would add another $1.4 million or so to the cost of the project.