AUGUSTA — For the first time in many years, visitors to the long-vacant but historic Colonial Theatre won’t have their attention captured by an ugly gaping hole in the middle of the floor in front of the stage.

Workers replacing the floor of the theater are wrapping up their work, aiming to finish later this month. That will cover the big hole in the main floor of the theater that went all the way through to the basement.

The hole, likely caused by years of water leaking into the structure through a since-replaced roof, was hard to miss. And hard to ignore, even for advocates who are working to raise funds to restore the former movie house to help bring people to the city’s likewise tarnished but on-the-mend downtown.

“We’re excited – fixing that giant hole is huge,” said Michael Hall, a member of the theater’s board of directors and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, a group committed to revitalizing the downtown. “We’re looking forward to people’s reactions when they can finally get in the theater and see the progress.”

GROUP TOURS

Hall said advocates for the theater anticipate, once the floor work is complete, a second egress to the building is opened up and the Office of the State Fire Marshal inspects the structure, they will bring small groups of people inside for tours, which should help with fundraising efforts because potential donors will be able to safely check out the theater, and more easily visualize it as a home for the performing arts and community events.

The leaky roof was fixed in 2016 by G & E Roofing, leaving the floor as the only remaining structural element in need of major repair. Though the brick walls need repair, the building has a stout steel structure supporting it all.

“We feel this is a major milestone, all the structural issues for the building are now taken care of,” said Tobias Parkhurst, president of the theater’s board of directors. “This is the first time you can say that in 20-plus years. There’s a new roof on there. And you can’t fall through the hole in the floor anymore. That’s a critical piece of the (fundraising) campaign. People can go in there and visualize a community resource Augusta hasn’t had in many years.”

The work on the floor, done by Winthrop-based contractor J.F. Scott Construction, was primarily funded by a $100,000 donation from Kennebec Savings Bank, but the project ended up costing more like $175,000, Parkhurst said. That’s because officials decided to remove asbestos and coal ash that had accumulated in the basement, both because it would have to be done eventually, and to speed repairs to the floor.

The additional work was paid for by other donations to the theater and $30,000 that Augusta city councilors voted to turn over to the theater to keep the project moving.

SHOWED CLASSIC MOVIES

The theater opened in 1913, closed in 1969, and has sat vacant ever since. Numerous local residents recall seeing movies there over the decades it was in operation.

It showed now-classic movies starring icons such as Bette Davis, Roy Rogers, Charlton Heston and The Three Stooges. Ticket prices were 10 to 75 cents.

Maine writer and film producer Holman Day made a number of films in the Augusta area and premiered them at the Colonial. Actress Dorothy Lamour made an appearance there during World War II, for a war bond drive.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

Gerry Warren, supervisor of the project for J.F. Scott, said workers on the job found a bunch of old movie tickets and programs from the 1940s.

Warren, of Hartland, said he plans to come check out the Colonial Theatre after its restoration is complete. He said he enjoys working on old buildings and the challenge of figuring out how their details were put together.

He said they had hoped to save the theater’s old floor, made of curved hardwood planks, but most of it was too rotten to reuse.

The job included replacing timbers supporting the floor, putting in all new joists and new decking. The new structural elements are tied into existing old brick columns in the basement with metal brackets, leaving the floor ready for the next phase of restoration.

Theater advocates hope to raise $8.5 million to rehabilitate the theater. Parkhurst said so far $1.1 million has been raised. Advocates anticipate the project will also receive historic preservation tax credits worth around $2 million, as well.

The city of Augusta has committed to contribute another $270,000, though the city won’t pay those funds until the project is substantially complete. Donations may be made through the Colonial Theatre’s website.

Two outdoor concerts to raise funds are planned for this summer, on Front Street alongside the Kennebec River. The Mallett Brothers Band is scheduled to play July 6, and Dustbowl Revival is expected to play July 26.

Plans to restore the theater include a larger stage, about 800 seats, the installation of box seating in the balcony, a new ceiling and a new orchestra pit. One of the biggest additions would be a planned 13,000-square-foot new building that would be attached to the northern side of the Colonial, which would help meet modern accessibility requirements and provide space for bathrooms and other modern amenities.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]