PITTSFIELD, Maine — The normally quiet, dimly lit atmosphere of the Pittsfield Community Theatre was an explosion of sound, dust and vibration Friday morning.
The stage has transformed into a workshop: Saws, ladders, scaffolding and tools are scattered about. The audience seats are covered in plastic sheeting which are further covered in sawdust and bits of insulation.
Scaffolding fills the aisles and deep grooves cut in the ceiling allow a peek at the century-old original brick walls. For months, Bowman Brothers Inc. of Newport has been reinforcing the theater’s roof and the work is coming down homestretch.
Last November, it was determined the flat roof — which had leaked for years — was not structurally sound and the theater was closed. It was discovered that the original wooden trusses had been cut when air conditioning was installed and further damaged by leaking water.
Workers have spent weeks installing reinforcing steel beams across the ceiling, each supported on either end by steel columns anchored in concrete.
“That’s the last one,” construction superintendent Rick Clukey said Friday morning, moments after a 37-foot, 1,500-pound steel beam was inched into place in the ceiling.
Clukey said the crew was on schedule to finish by mid-April.
“We’re pretty close,” he said. “We have some trimming to do. We need to close up the ceiling and put everything back together. Another couple of weeks and we’ll be in real good shape.”
When Clukey opened up the theater roof and got a good look at the existing timber supports, he said it was scary.
“Those trusses were in rough shape. I definitely would have been nervous if there was three feet of snow on the roof,” he said.
Clukey said 11 beams and 17 columns were installed over the past two months.
The $79,555 project was a quick fix. Originally engineers said the repair could cost $100,000. A second phase of the project, which has not been funded or approved, would involve removing the existing roof and installing an insulated rubber roof. That phase could cost at least $60,000.
Reopening the theater can’t come quick enough for theater manager Donna Dunphy. Every day she is asked when movies will be shown again, she said.
The Pittsfield Community Theatre, believed to be the only theater owned by a municipality in Maine, is a popular place, drawing visitors from all over central Maine.
Admission is generally just $3 and only $1 on Monday nights. On Mondays, the line to get in sometimes stretches halfway up Main Street and people begin arriving more than an hour before showtime.
“I guess you don’t realize how much you use and want something until you don’t have it,” she said. “Especially the children. They can’t wait for it to open.”
Dunphy said the theater now has its own fundraising committee which is actively raising money for further renovations, such as a revamp of the snack bar and bathrooms, new carpeting, better lighting, seat replacements and other repairs.
Several community groups are planning events to benefit the theater, including a talent show at Warsaw Middle School, a concert at the theater in May, and an “American Idol”-type event this summer.