Presentation of the plans for the renovation of the Memorial Opera House

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Porter County Council wants to move forward with the renovation and expansion of the Memorial Opera House. Representatives from Schmidt Associates and Skillman Corporation detailed their plans at Tuesday’s meeting.

The $6.5 million project would replace the crumbling bricks and windows of the Opera House and the former sheriff’s residence, and build a connection between the two. Skillman architect Brad Brutout said this would make both buildings accessible to people with disabilities and allow the buildings to share mechanical systems.

“The goal of this project is to restore and preserve these existing historic buildings, while actually improving the user experience associated with them,” Bruthout said.

The connector would also house the Opera’s toilets, freeing up space in the lobby, while the 60-year-old auditorium seats would be replaced.

But it remains to be seen how exactly the county would pay for the project. US bailout funds are no longer on the table. This idea elicited negative reactions from locals.

However, Council Chairman Jeremy Rivas said the county was in good financial shape and there was no reason to stop. “I would like to ask our lawyer, as well as the lawyer for the commissioners and [Auditor] vicky [Urbanik]to look at a revenue bond – another revenue bond, if that’s possible, from foundation revenue or whatever,” Rivas said.

This funding would come from investment income from the county’s sale of the old hospital. Council members agreed to ask county officials to explore funding options for the opera house, the current jail and the downtown garage.

The Opera’s executive director, Scot MacDonald, said that although the building needs renovations, he is very proud of the facility. “The fact that it’s a living memorial and, you know, the 1893 lawmakers didn’t want it to be just a plaque or a statue, that says a lot about me. I think that says a lot about a lot of people in this room that it’s a living memorial that still serves its original purpose, so we like to show that,” MacDonald said.

If approved, the project will be put out to tender at the end of October, while construction will begin next March.

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