As residents grappled with the news Thursday, city officials moved forward on plans to get the street open, the theater began collecting donations for expected costly repairs, and the mayor weighed in on the city’s support of the 54-year-old institution.
The block between Fifth and Sixth avenues was closed Wednesday after Lewiston building official John Smith determined a broken ceiling truss allowed the building to move and the west wall is at risk of collapsing. Eighth Street is a well-used, north-south route from downtown through Normal Hill.
“We’re interested in having the street open as soon as possible and making sure the building remains safe,” Smith said Thursday.
He plans to meet with an engineer hired by the theater and fire department officials today to evaluate whether the building is repairable and look at solutions for stabilization. Costs are unknown at this time, he said.
“Obviously, the decision to spend any finances will be up to the owner,” Smith said.
The community theater group owns the 1907 church. Shelly Renzelman, president of the theater’s board of directors, said insurance will not cover the broken truss because the problem was caused by long-term water damage from a leaking roof.
The theater was in the process of raising money for a new roof, estimated to cost around $160,000. As of now, the theater has $10,000 dedicated toward building repairs, she said. Of that, the group must use $2,000 to pay the engineer for today’s evaluation. She was told Wednesday that costs for truss repair could easily start at $500,000.
“People are offering to help. The biggest thing people can do to help is to contribute,” Renzelman said. “Anything we do from this point on is going to take money.”
Donation accounts for the theater have been established at Twin River National Bank branches in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. People can also donate at the theater’s website, lctheatre.org.
If a building has an unfixable safety issue that its owner cannot repair, city officials can turn to the court system for a judge’s order and take legal action, Smith said.
“That would give us the authority to demolish the building or expend funds on the building,” he said.
A lien would then be placed against the property owner to refund the taxpayers.
Lewiston Mayor Jim Kleeburg said the theater’s situation will likely be a topic of discussion Monday when the Lewiston City Council meets to discuss the city budget. The city gives the theater $32,200 annually for operating costs.
“We’re willing to continue with our contribution,” Kleeburg said. “It’s a line item in the budget. I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion.”
Kleeburg said he doesn’t think the council could take money out of the budget to fix a privately owned building.
“As far as coming up with the funds to fix it, I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Kleeburg said.
Renzelman said some people have commented in public forums that the theater should have better maintained its building. The requirements to fix a historic building can be costly, she said. Officials have been working with the Idaho State Historical Society to set priorities.
The theater’s Legends of Music fundraiser raised $20,000 this spring, she said. A portion of that was used for an analysis of repairs needed on the sandstone building’s crumbling facade.
“We’re nonprofit, and people are under the illusion that we have all this money. We’re living paycheck to paycheck,” Renzelman said.
See Saturday’s Lewiston Tribune for an update on this evolving story.