A new marquee and banner sign looms over the Cottage Street entrance at the Opera House. At the same time, a deck overlooks the Ammonoosuc River in this conceptual design for a new cultural arts center. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
January 06, 2021LITTLETON — Architect Dennis Myers presented conceptual design plans for a new cultural arts center at the Opera House at a Dec. 28 public hearing held on-site. While the bulk of renovations would occur on the ground floor level, he said an underutilized area on the main floor would be re-purposed.
Advancement of the historic building's usability was the primary goal of the $2 million project, said Town Manager Andrew Dorsett. Myers' Manchester-based firm, The Architects, was contracted last summer after the town received $17,000 in grant funding. The contract expires next month.
A total of $12,000 in CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) planning funds were secured by the town, as well as funding awarded by the Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) and the USDA's Community Facilities Technical Assistance and Training (CFTAT) grant program. The funds were used to complete preliminary engineering and architectural analysis.
The architect developed cost estimates for the required improvements, including both interior and exterior elements. Myers presented conceptual images and budget details during the 30-minute presentation.
Myers said, "We took a look at the whole building because there is a lot of other cultural events and programming here. We wanted to be able to support it with our Cottage Street plan and help enhance the use for the rest of the building."
The space is currently wide open with support columns and exposed infrastructure piping. Myers met with the Cultural Arts Commission numerous times to develop an operational plan that included a broadcast studio and multi-use room, as well as a commercial kitchen and green room.
The architectural firm also designed a large flex space with a bar and lounge area to host various performances and gatherings. Potential art gallery exhibitions were also considered with wall and lighting design, said Myers.
While the flex space would comfortably house 75 attendees for performances and 45 to 50 for meetings, the whole level could easily support 150 people, said Myers. He also stated that the local North County Community Radio station indicated an interest in broadcasting and recording live events at the venue.
The architect anticipated that the kitchen area could become a USDA-approved commercial kitchen, should market viability testing justify the cost.
He said, "There's been a lot of interest in providing a community kitchen that would support farmers market participants and help them grow their business and be able to market their products."
While the total base cost came to an approximate $1.7 million, Myers said the budget was broken into multiple components. If all of the potential elements were constructed, the project would come to $2.4 million. He reminded attendees that it was a preliminary budget that didn't factor in design refinements or engineering fees to develop construction documents.
The architecture firm is currently negotiating with an New Hampshire Historic Preservation officer on existing internal and external easements that could affect the deck, marquee and banner sign.
Littleton resident Bruce Hadlock asked about funding sources for the cultural arts center.
Dorsett said, "Our method is to take seed money from taxpayers and leverage it three-to-one or four-to-one to get the funding."
NCIC Economic Development Director Katelyn Robinson indicated that her organization would assist town officials in identifying funding streams from local, state and federal sources, as well as private donors.
She said, "There are millions of dollars out there for these types of projects, but it doesn't happen overnight. We will not see these renovations tomorrow."