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'Community-driven' clean-up continues at Norwalk Theatre

Cary Ashby • Jan 26, 2020 at 12:00 PM

NORWALK — About two-thirds of the seats in the Norwalk Theatre have new homes.

“They have been repurposed by two other non-profits,” said Vanessa Cook, who founded the Norwalk Arts Center LLC (NAC) with Theresa Barcus in 2018.

Curtain 440, a Geauga County theater company, took 150 of the seats. The remaining ones went to Tammy Kuntz, a Methodist minister in charge of the Mexican mission Manos Juntas.

“They are building a community center in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico,” Cook said. “We are really pleased to be able to help other non-profits with the seats.”

Eventually, the NAC plans to flatten the floor where the seats were located.  

“We are going to make a multi-form theater,” said Cook, referring to a flexible seating space with two or three tiers.

The removal of the seats was one of three clean-up projects at the Norwalk Theatre, 57 E. Main St. involving more than 50 volunteers. Crews worked over Labor Day weekend and during two recent weekends, the St. Paul High School boys’ basketball team filled two Dumpsters of trash.

“I think what is good about the progress is it’s been community-driven,” said Cook, who has been pleased with the amount of volunteers and donors who have helped. “We of course need more donors.”

Replacing the roof is the highest priority.

“Nothing can happen before the roof,” said Kathleen Sigsworth, who chairs the renovation committee with Cook and is the NAC treasurer. “We can’t do anything before it gets dried in.”

“We’ve raised enough money to start the roof project; that’s going to be a complete removal and replacement,” Cook added. “Damschroder Roofing (Inc. in Fremont) has been contracted to do that.”

The project is expected to start in the next few weeks.

“The roof project is estimated at $172,000. It was within the ballpark (of other estimates); we had six bids,” Cook said.

Related to the roof is the ceiling demolition estimated to cost $35,000. Cook said a structural engineer has said the ceiling is largely cosmetic and needs to be taken down.

“We can put trusses up there with better lighting,” she added.

To offset the costs, NAC has applied for an Ohio Emergency Management Agency security grant for non-profit organizations, which is used to upgrade the security and safety of buildings. In addition, Cook and Sigsworth said they have applied to get money from the state capital improvement budget.

“Sen. (Nathan) Manning and state Rep. (Dick) Stein are helping us out to get funding for the (roof) project,” Cook said. “They’ve been very helpful. … They said we have a good chance.”

Volunteers have cleaned out the stage, projection and dressing rooms. Crews also have taken down the celing tiles in the bathrooms.

“The dressing rooms were chock-full of props that are no longer usable,” Sigsworth said.

Crews have set aside salvageable items. The lobby entrance was full during a visit to the theater Friday morning.

“We want to make a memory wall with these (salvageable) items,” Cook said. “Diane Waite took a bunch of pictures to document our progress.”

On display will also be a carbon arc film projector.

“I think those are original to the building,” Cook said.

Volunteers have discovered handwritten notes on the walls of the projection room about how to operate the projectors.

Among the discoveries have been unique signs indicative of bygone eras. One says “Smoking in the lounges only.”

“My favorite is ‘No agents or peddlers,’” Cook said.