Beaming at the Opera House Theater

(Newport This Week, By Barry Bridges)

A blustery morning was not enough to halt the momentum of construction at the Newport Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center, where a small group gathered on Monday morning, Nov. 21, to watch four 5-ton, 40-foot-long beams being hoisted into place through the roof.

“This is a big step forward for us, a momentous event” said an excited Opera House Executive Director Brenda Nienhouse in brief comments to those assembled on the sidewalk a safe distance away. A large crane sitting near the bottom of Washington Square then began to move the first beam into one corner of the building.

“Each beam will have to be lifted over the [neighboring] Horgan Building, straight up into the air, and threaded through the roof into the concrete footings inside,” explained the theater’s Liz Drayton as the first column was raised high toward a cloudy sky in gusting winds.

Supporters of the Opera House Theater donned hard hats as cranes over the building inserted columns into four openings in the existing roof. (Photo by Lynne Tungett)The anchored steel pillars will support the roof and sets the stage for the top floor to be rebuilt with a glassed-in atrium, a rooftop terrace, and landscaped gardens.

Ivan Colon, who assists the theater in business development and outreach, told Newport This Week that the next step is for lateral beams to be placed across the four verticals. That should happen as early as next week, allowing work to then proceed rapidly on a number of fronts.

The beam placement kicks off the next phase in a project that is marking a milestone year for the Opera House. A groundbreaking ceremony for the renovations was held on Feb. 29, with state and local officials on hand to laud the anticipated economic impact that the theater will have on the community, both during construction and after it opens as a year-round performing arts center.

The pre-construction phase, which involved the removal of the old annex, abatement, removal of the old stage, walls, and staircases, and the pouring of foundations for the huge columns, is now complete.

When the Opera House re-opens its doors in 2018, the new facility will include a modernized stage and auditorium; state of the art theatrical equipment, projection, light and sound; a new box office; a large second floor lobby overlooking Washington Square; education and office space; and the rooftop garden and terrace offering views of the harbor and the Newport Bridge.

A broad range of programming and live performances is envisioned, including music, dance, theater, comedy, educational programs, speakers’ series, and youth and family events.

At almost 150 years old, the Opera House at 19 Touro St. is among the 10 oldest surviving opera houses in the country, and is the oldest surviving theater in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Cultural Arts Facilities Bond, which was approved by voters in 2014, is providing

$4.2 million in matching funds toward the total anticipated $14.6 million cost of the project. Nienhouse said that the theater’s capital campaign is continuing fundraising efforts to secure donations for the balance needed.

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