PORTSMOUTH — The Newport Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center may be located in the City by the Sea, but the major renovation project to bring the historic building back to its original splendor bears the fingerprints of many Portsmouth residents.
One of them is Bob Murgo, the construction superintendent for the project. You’ll often find Mr. Murgo, of Farrar & Associates Inc., sitting at his desk by the entrance, directing traffic, dealing with contractors and managing the daily site construction.
Although construction began in the spring of 2016, Mr. Murgo first started working here about 14 years ago, when the facade was restored.
“Then it kind of sat for a while; we would come in periodically to fix leaks in the building, just to preserve what was here. I’ve been working on and off year for 12 to 14 years, but pretty much full on since last year,” he said.
The historic opera house, built in 1867, is being restored and renovated to be used as a 700-seat venue for year-round programming of live performances and other cultural, educational and civic activity. It’s the oldest surviving theater building in Rhode Island.
The building’s exterior is being restored to its original 1867 look, while the interior will appear like it did after a renovation project was finished in 1929, when the upstairs balcony was put in and capacity increased, said Mr. Murgo. (More recently, the Opera House operated as a three-screen movie theater until its closing in 2010.)
The project’s completion date is projected for summer 2018, he said. “They’re still under a major fund-raising campaign,” said Mr. Murgo. “We’re kind of spending money as it comes in here.”
Mr. Murgo, a former triathlete, has been involved in numerous construction and restoration projects locally. Farrar & Associates has completed many projects at Salve Regina and also constructed the new, 16,000-square-foot parish house on the grounds of St. Mary’s Church on East Main Road.
He said the Opera House job is unique, however, due to its historic nature.
“The renovation is challenging with the style of the building, and its historical significance is definitely a key factor,” Mr. Murgo said. “I have a lot of pride in everything I do, and this especially. The interaction between everybody involved has increased twofold because of the type of project it is. It brings that many more professionals to the table — such as theater consultants — above and beyond the typical engineers and architects.”
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Another Portsmouth company on the job is M.F. Construction Corp. of Boyd’s Lane, the masonry contractor for the project.
The project’s 13-member Board of Directors also includes three Portsmouth residents: Kristin MacMannis, Arthur Chapman and Adam Townsend.
“One of the many things l love about Newport is its big-city arts and culture scene with a small-town vibe,” said MacMannis. “The only thing missing was a place to see great live performances. Void filled. We have tremendous history in Newport. It’s not very often people have the opportunity to be part of history.”
Added Chapman, “Performing arts help us increase our sense of empathy and understanding for differing points of view, which is in desperate need today. The Opera House will provide year-round performances of every aspect of the arts, dance, music, theater and more — not only enriching our lives, but also stimulating the economy of downtown Newport and greater Aquidneck.”
Among the other local supporters of the theater renovation are Newport Polo, Marlene Leatherbee and Martin Hewitt.
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