First Stage to get ground-up reconstruction

November 24, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Village Theatre is planning a $2.5 million replacement of its First Stage building at 120 Front St. N., originally built in 1913 By Jon Savelle.

To look at Village Theatre’s First Stage building, you wouldn’t immediately think it needs replacing. The facade at 120 Front St. N. is painted and in good shape, and the structure behind is hard to see.

When you do see the rest of the building, you understand why the arts institution plans to tear down everything but the facade and rebuild it from the ground up. Built in 1913 as a movie theater, the wood-frame structure is not supported by any kind of foundation, the siding and roof are shot, and the whole building sags.

A replacement will cost about $2.5 million, said Village Theatre Executive Producer Robb Hunt. Corporate and government fundraising is under way, with construction permits being the next objective. A public fundraising campaign has not begun.

Already, Pacific Rim Architecture has designed a new building, which will resemble the old one while incorporating modern systems, materials and flexible spaces. It will be environmentally ‘green’ enough for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Improvements like a larger lobby, new restrooms and new office space are also part of the plan, but the core element is the theater itself. Now one long, narrow room with a sloping floor, the theater is awkward and cramped. The stage is small and has no wings, so lighting, sets and other equipment share it with performers.

In the new theater, the floor will be flat. Movable seating will allow the whole room to be opened up for classes and rehearsals, while a new, larger stage finally will have wings. A “green room,” or gathering place for actors, will be provided, as will a new control room and a staff restroom.

“It’s going to make a big difference in the experience for pretty much everybody,” Hunt said.

First Stage has two primary functions. One is to provide space for the development of new musical productions, a specialty for which Village Theatre has won a national reputation. The other priority is KIDSTAGE, for youth theater production and drama training. Some 1,000 students are enrolled in such programs, split between Issaquah and Village Theatre’s Everett site, and now First Stage will have space for classes.

“This will be a much nicer facility for them, and a much nicer facility for audiences to go in,” Hunt said.

Once funding is lined up, permits are obtained and the First Stage building is built, Village Theatre will have the enviable distinction of owning three excellent buildings, Hunt said. The Mainstage theater, built in the style of older structures on Front Street, was built from scratch in 1994. Two blocks away, the theater’s scene shop is just a year old and is replete with carpentry, painting, design, finishing and assembly areas.

Village Theatre is, in fact, the second largest theater organization in the Northwest and by far the largest arts institution on the Eastside, Hunt said.

His next objective is not another building but an endowment that would allow the organization to maintain an investment while spending only the interest income from it. But establishing an endowment is a task that will require marketing and persuasion.

“One of the things that really helps is people remembering arts organizations in their wills,” Hunt said.

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com.

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