By Jesse Wood
Nov. 12, 2013. The Ensemble Stage Board of Directors recently notified the Town of Blowing Rock of its interest in turning the old firehouse into the theatre production company’s new, permanent home. The Blowing Rock Town Council will entertain the request at tonight’s council meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. (See agenda here.)
In a recently drafted letter to Town Manager Scott Fogleman, Ensemble Stage’s artistic director Gary Smith said that the non-profit, professional theatre group has rented the Blowing Rock School Auditorium since its inception in 2009, sharing the space with Mountain Home Music, Blowing Rock School and various religious organizations.
“Unfortunately, due to scheduling logistics, auditorium condition, and patronage growth, that arrangement is no longer a viable option,” Smith wrote. “In order for Ensemble Stage to, not only contine to grow, but also to sustain itself as a performing arts entity, we are forced to look for a new, more exclusive home.”
Smith goes on to write that the old fire station would allow Ensemble Stage to offer 30 weeks of entertainment and programming for the community and its visitors, while also providing a suitable venue option town and Blowing Rock Chamber events.
The production company also has plans to renovate the fire station at its own expense, Smith notes, into a 125-seat auditorium with a stage and theatrical lighting and sound, a lobby, restrooms, concession area and box office on the lower level, while the upper level would include a rehearsal room, “green room,” dressing rooms, tech booth and office.
“Ensemble stage understands that it would be responsible for payment of all utilities, upkeep and other considerations,” Smith wrote.
Reserving the space for the Ensemble Stage is just one of other options, Blowing Rock Town Councilman Albert Yount said on Tuesday morning.
Yount mentioned that the fire department moved out of the old firehouse about six years ago, adding that the Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation department is currently using the space for storage and to work on equipment.
“It’s not just sitting there vacant,” Yount said.
Yount said in the past the facility has been suggested as a place to hold the farmers’ market in case of inclement weather. He also said there have been discussions of a basketball court and/or other recreational usages by the Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation department in the winter.
“None of these situations have gone very much in depth,” Yount said. “They’ve just been thrown on the table.”
While he said the Ensemble Stage’s plans for the space is a “good idea,” he said it is presently just that – an idea.
“We don’t know anything about how the Ensemble Stage is structured,” Yount said.
With the Ensemble Stage not being a town entity, it causes Yount to pause.
“Then you get into the question of capitalization,” Yount said. “I can tell you I am going to build a castle. We are dealing with the public’s property and taxpayers’ property and have to weigh all the options, ask many questions and hear feedback from the public because they own it.”
As for his preference, Yount said he won’t have one until he hears all the options with more color and in more depth.
“We’ll put them all in the open and see what everybody wants to do,” Yount said. “I am just one of five.”
In a prior meeting when the discussion of a farmers’ market being housed in the old firehouse, Councilman Jim Steele said the building had been deemed unsafe due to electrical problems. He said the garage doors needed to be replaced and bathrooms needed to be brought into compliance.
The discussion centered around an application for a $50,000 grant to develop local food systems and the money would be used to renovate the old firehouse. According to meeting minutes, Steele said that “$50,000 would be a beginning, [though], it wouldn’t cover all the costs to upgrade the building.”
See entire letter below: