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Grant speeds up renovations

A major step in the years-long restoration of the Haven Theateris planned to begin later this year, as the assistance of arecently awarded $60,000 Mississippi Arts Commission grant has spedup the scheduled rebuilding of the theater’s front facade.

“Every dollar helps to speed up the plans,” said Tommy Sproles,executive director of the Brookhaven Little Theatre’s board ofdirectors. “We have a long way to go, but this definitely speeds itup – this puts us over the half way mark for restoring the front ofthe building.”

The grant will be added to existing funds and used to rebuildthe theater’s front entrance and ticket booth to originalcondition, as required by the theater’s status as a Mississippilandmark. Plans also call for the store front of the adjoining oldPosey Place store to be taken in as part of the theater’s entrance,which will be constructed to mirror the existing side. Later phasesof the restoration plan include the expansion of the theaterlobby.

“The idea is to allow access into the existing lobby from theold Posey building,” said Sha Walker, vice president of the board.”It will provide better disability and fire access, as well asincrease the size of the lobby area.”

The cost of the project is estimated at $203,505. The board nowneeds only to raise an additional $50,000 to restore the facade’skey feature – the building’s marquee, which will be accented withneon lighting.

“We won’t start the construction until the additional money israised,” Walker said. “We don’t want half-completed work justsitting out in the weather. The board is currently discussing ideasabout how we can raise $50,000 locally.”

Walker said several citizens interested in the theater’srestoration have already contributed to the restoration, and theboard is planning to raise the remaining money necessary throughone large fundraiser. The board hopes to have the money raised bythe end of September so construction on the facade and marquee canstart this fall.

“We are prepared to execute,” Walker said. “Had we received ourfull complete request, we would have it completed by this year. Butwe’re grateful for what we’ve been awarded – we’re definitely notcomplaining. Now, it’s left up to our local effort again.”

The Mississippi Arts Commission has awarded approximately $19million in 139 grants since 2001. In the midst of the state’scurrent budget crisis, however, the state Legislature only provided$1 million for the commission’s operation – limiting it to offeringonly 60/40 matching grants on $100,000 projects. The theater’sboard requested a larger amount in the grant application, but MCAwas limited – it still awarded the maximum amount possible.

“They had an astronomical amount of requests for grants thisyear,” Walker said of MCA. “Organizations from all over the stateapplied. They only gave out $1 million, and we got nearly 10percent of that.”

While the restoration of the Haven’s facade is set, much workremains to be done to complete the total restoration – a projectestimated at more than $1 million and divided into six phases. Thefirst phase was accomplished last year when the Haven wasre-roofed. The second phase will soon begin, and the remaining fourphases – all dealing with interior restoration – are estimated tocost a further $715,000.

The forthcoming interior restoration will be aimed at increasingthe theater’s seating capacity, improving the stage and dressingrooms, installing new lighting and sound, upgrading the electricaland plumbing, expanding the front lobby and refurbishing thebathrooms.

For now, all focus is on the matter at hand – restoring thefacade.

“When we complete this, it will be a major change for the wholestreet,” Walker said. “It’s gonna be beautiful – it will really besomething the city can be proud of.”

Board president JoAnna Sproles said the MCA grant and the facadework to follow moves the theater closer to its ultimate goal -becoming a superior site for the performing arts, not just inBrookhaven, but across the state.

“We want the community to understand that we’re not restoringthis building just have three plays a year – we’re trying torestore the excitement of performing arts in South Mississippi,”she said. “We want the facilities to be the best available andright here in Brookhaven.”

Sproles said the theater, once completely restored, would beavailable to every arts, music and church group that desired to useit for performances.

“It’s not just our theater anymore, it’s Brookhaven’s littletheater,” she said.