I would like to update everyone on what’s been going on with the Richwood Opera House. For those who aren’t aware, the Opera House has been in a state of disrepair. The building has been largely unused since the early 2000s. The roof has been in danger of collapsing, the ceiling supports on the second floor have already collapsed, and the cost to repair has been very hefty. The Richwood Redevelopment Committee (RRC) was formed in October of 2020 by the Village Council. Their job has been to find ways to raise money for the Opera House and deal with the shoring up of the building and eventual restoration and renovation.
In September, the Opera House was named by Preservation Ohio as 2020 Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Site. The first meeting of the RRC was on October 22, 2020. The committee includes Reddy Brown, Chairperson; Aaron Smith, Vice Chairperson; Gail DeGood-Guy, Secretary; R. Shandel, Treasurer. The committee also makes up 11 voting members. They started by defining the objectives and challenges of the committee. Different age groups view the Opera House in different ways. On one end: Younger age groups may not even know it exists. On the other end: Many older citizens grew up in the Opera House. This project of dealing with a dilapidated historic building that holds sentimental value to many citizens of Richwood is unique and we’re exploring new waters with it.
The first step was to establish different options on how to deal with the building and present them to the Village Council to decide. The short term plan was established first. Quotes from various contractors were received to shore up the roof for the winter. Then they established a long term plan such as do they want to simply tear it down, preserve some or all of the building, move the Village offices back inside the building, or even sell the building out to companies, venues, ect. Grants were also discussed since these would largely be responsible for funding the project.
There are four sections to the building. The west tower contains offices and the clock. The center had with fire dept. and gym and is the worst damaged area. In the east section, two bays are used to house Village stop light equipment. And the basement which appears to be in fairly good shape. There are three main areas of concern: the building needs a new roof, structural issues need to be dealt with, and the brick needs to be repointed. New stairwells are also needed and it needs to be ADA compliant which includes constructing an elevator. The motion was made and moved forward with getting sealed bids.
It was stressed that since the building is historic, the slate roof should be as original as possible. It doesn’t necessarily has to be slate but the roof line should be kept close with its original line. The large federal grants are only available for places that are registered with the National Register of Historic Places. Aaron Smith took upon himself to start this process. Parking was also talked about and the Richwood-North Union Public Library, which is located across the street, is willing to partner with the Village to use their parking.
On December 15, 2020, State. Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) announced state lawmakers began hearings today on Ohio’s proposed two-year state construction budget, which includes funding for a variety of initiatives across the state as well as aid for local projects in Marion and Union counties. In these local projects included funding for the Richwood Opera House. The Village received $50,000 after this bill, named Senate Bill 310, was passed on December 29. Meanwhile, five different companies were considered and/or gave bids to shore up the roof. Two companies were over budget at $100,000 to complete the work. Two companies were under budget of less than $97,000 using Derwacter structural engineering guidelines. Meyer Restoration, with an $89,100 bid to remove all the debris and install shoring per Derwacter, was selected by the committee to present to the Village Council to proceed.
On December 14, 2020, Village Council voted to keep and restore the full building to use for Village government, police, museum, community hall/venue, resiliency center, community services and/or offices. The council also voted to hire Meyer Restoration, with an $89,100 bid to remove all the debris and install shoring per Derwacter, to shore up the roof. According to Derwacter, the floor should handle the load of the scaffolding. However, to be extra safe, Meyer Restoration will use a measuring device to ensure the floor can maintain the scaffolding weight. The approximate additional cost for the device is $2,000. Work on shoring up the roof began on January 18, 2021. The company started by cleaning up the downed ceiling. Next up was to use the shoring to shore up the broken truss enough to cut it away safely. The next week the shoring was built toward the weak beam to help hold it up. The measuring system, transit, targets, and checksheets was installed as the last scaffold was put into place on February 8. The total cost for Meyer Restoration was $91,208: $60,228 to shore up the roof, $16,900 for the scaffolding (which the village will then own) and $14,080 for a rubber roof, antenna removal & measuring machine.
A phased work schedule was drafted by the committee. This was further elaborated on when they created a timeline for their paperwork to receive the capital funds via S.B. 310. The project was expected to take three years to complete, 2021-2023. As of October 2022, the Richwood Redevelopment Committee was planning on working with their contracted feasibility study vendor, Raising the Barr LLC, to plan for and conduct a fundraising analysis. However, Sarah Barr, owner of the company, is no longer available to conduct the study. Michael Hurwitz from Telesolve Company in Reynoldsburg, who was a candidate for the financial feasibility study, expressed interest in working with the committee again. The committee hopes to meet with Hurwitz at a regular meeting in January or at a special meeting to accommodate his availability. The job of the feasibility study is to ask various people and businesses of Richwood if they would be willing to donate money and resources. They will inform the committee of the anticipated ratio of individual gifts, corporate gifts and grants that will be used in the construction phases of the project. This study will also inform the committee of how many phases of work that the construction project will take (which depends entirely on how much funds the committee has at a time to pay for the work). During this period, an Architecture & Engineering firm will be identified via bid process and contracted to more fully inform a detailed design of the building.
If you would like to donate to the Richwood Redevelopment Committee, there are various ways you may do so. Below are some of the ways that you can donate and contribute financial support to the work on the Opera House:
- Donate directly to the Village. Mail/Drop off cash or a check paid to the Village of Richwood, with a note that it is for the Opera House. 153 N. Franklin St, Richwood, OH, 43344
- Visit your nearest Richwood Coffee and buy something from their great menu! https://richwoodcoffee.com/
- Purchase “The Rich Woods of Union County” by local resident and author Dustin Lowe. Mr. Lowe has graciously pledged that all proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated in support of the Opera House. https://www.amazon.com/Rich-Woods-Union…/dp/0578887029…
As of now, there is still some hesitation in moving the village government back into the Opera House. The police have stated that they do not wish to move and the village council is unwilling to pay and occupy both buildings. Further plans will need to be assessed in regard to what the building will be utilized for. The feasibility study, as of April 2022, has yet to start. A few unexpected issues need to be addressed first. The Opera House will need to have a rubber roof installed to prevent further water damage. It was also found that the clock tower is in danger due to water damage and will need to be addressed as well. Because of this, the committee is in desperate need of funds.
The S.B. 310, which will give the committee $50,000, is still expected to be received. They only need to complete Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 form to identity and assess any effect on other historic buildings in the area while restoring the Richwood Opera House. Once that form is through, they can process the request for capital funds. Tracy Plouck, committee member, spoke with Sen. Bill Reineke’s aide and requested an updated application of $170,000 from the 2022 capital budget.
In October of 2022, the committee recently met virtually with TRIAD Architects and independent contractors to discuss the conceptual design for the former opera house and municipal building. The proposed first floor design includes offices for the clerk and mayor, a community space, a council meeting room, a lobby, a break room, restrooms, a computer storage room, an open office area, a records storage room, a multi-use space and a community resources room. Additionally, there would be a vestibule through the main entrance with double doors. Other design elements are wooden floors, acoustic ceiling baffles to absorb sound and an elevator.
In a regular meeting, Vice Chairman Aaron expressed concern about the open office space intended for the zoning inspector and the village administrator. “In my opinion, I think the mayor is one of the people who probably doesn’t need an office because it’s kind of a part-time gig.” He explained that he does not want to assume the village administrator will always be the police chief, although Monte Asher currently fills both roles. The committee discussed not designating the offices for particular positions, except for the fiscal officer.
Additionally, there was some adversity from the mayor and village administrator in previous discussions with the village council about moving offices to the opera house building on South Franklin Street. The current officials prefer to keep the municipal building with the police department at 153 N. Franklin St. As the restoration won’t be completed for a decade or so, the committee stressed the importance of flexibility in the structure, such as movable walls, for different needs in the future. The second floor will feature an event space that could be rented for weddings or other large gatherings. The team at TRIAD Architects said the existing wood floor could be salvaged with repairs. The conceptual design also incorporates a 30-by-12 foot stage. The designers plan to repurpose the south side fire escape railing for an interior staircase. There will also be a bridal suite and catering kitchen upstairs.
At this time, the projector room and clock tower will remain untouched. The committee plans to retain the existing brick walls and foundation as well. Committee Chairman Reddy Brown and member Laurie Eliot-Shea expressed that they are trying to keep the as much of the original building as possible.
The cost of the restoration is estimated to be $1.9 million which includes the downstairs renovation, upstairs renovation, new shingled roof covering, HVAC and new electrical systems on both floors, updated safety systems, and an elevator. The unofficial quote includes $200,000 in construction contingency. Brown said the work will proceed in phases as the funding is available. Furthermore, the quote does not include furnishings as well as an additional $110,000 for an asphalt roof. The final quote and design are expected in the coming weeks.
At a recent committee meeting, Reddy Brown, chair of the Richwood Revitalization Committee, said that Mayor Scott Jerew asked him to repair the clock attached to the Opera House. Reddy told members that he would research how much it will cost to repair it. There is a maintenance fund in the village’s general budget for the building provided the village council approves the expenditure to repair the clock. If the council does not provide the funding, the committee will need to budget for an electrician to correct the building’s electrical circuit.
Vice chair Aaron Smith has also been documenting the clock’s history. He explained that some information regarding the Seth Thomas Clock Company has been lost and a volume is missing from the National Watch and Clock Museum in Pennsylvania.
The committee was able to raise a total of $549 since the November meeting. The Village Council paid Triad Architects roughly $34,000 for their work on a conceptual design of the building. The committee will eventually refund the council when it receives the 2020 capital funds. A grand agreement was submitted to the State Controlling Board for approval to receive the funds.
The committee has also agreed to pursue the hiring of Michael Hurwitz of the Telesolve Company out of Reynoldsburg to begin a feasibility study. Hurwitz has worked on several restoration projects around Ohio such as the Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine and the opera house in West Liberty. The committee has about $8,000 for the study and Hurwitz told the group he would charge $5,000 in total — $2,500 up front and another $2,500 when completed.
Hurwitz’s job is to help the committee evaluate the potential financial contributions needed from the community. The project would have to be funded with a 20/80 split. 80% would come from public/private and grant funds and 20% would come from the community. The amount of community support would be between $250,000 and $400,000. The village is looking at a total cost of the project to be over $2 million. Hurwitz would conduct a series of community impact surveys and put together possible donors to be interviewed. The study would also explore options for community partnerships, naming rights, and other incentives. Hurwitz gave a date of June 1 to have all the interviews and surveys completed. He assured the group that the committee is on the right track and said that the opera house project has “lots of potential.”
Committee members and Mayor Scott Jerew were expecting more information and guidance following the results of the feasibility study which was finally complete after many months of waiting. Scott’s hope was to hear more about what the financial picture would look like for restoring the building. He has concern about raising the money which he hoped would be clarified at the end of the study. Jerew pointed out that the fundraising thermometer on the wall, which was there before the fair in 2022, had yet to reach the goal of $5,000. “We haven’t made that goal here yet. Doesn’t that bother anyone on this group? It sure should.”
Hurwitz, whose company had conducted the feasibility study, told the committee that, in his opinion, the community would not be able to restore it, but could reclaim it and have a new use. The cost would come at around $3 million with 40-60% coming from the community itself. He added that “technically” saving the building is possible. “There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s what the community wants to do. It’s what the community is committed to do,” Hurwitz said. He pointed out that the building is structurally sound enough to save.
The study consisted of interviewing 30 members of the community with the goal of seeing who might be willing to contribute financially. He said the results were surprising in that a small number of people, less than 10, said they were either indifferent or didn’t think the project was possible. Hurwitz pointed out that it is not unanimous that we are going to save it, preserve it, do what we want to do with it. He said out of the 30 people that were interviewed, 23 were committed to doing the project in some form. He told the committee that the study was conducted with a theatrical perspective, meaning he could tell the group what the building needed in order to be the event center the committee wants it to be. He said he would be happy to supply additional information regarding finances.
By the end of the meeting, the committee decided to review the 200 page binder that Hurwitz provided and would present his findings to the village council with more specific goals on what to do next. Hurwitz added that he would be willing to reach out to larger local businesses but stressed that the committee must get more money in the bank first.
After an almost three-hour meeting, committee members reached a consensus on the specifics of their recommendation to the village council which they presented at the next regular session on July 24. The committee recommended to proceed with saving the opera house. Since the committee was formed in 2020, they have received nearly $150,000 in grant money which has gone toward small roof repairs and the feasibility study. While the committee hasn’t technically entered the fundraising stage, members have high hopes that funds can be found if it moves forward.
At the village council meeting on July 24, 2023, the council decided to allow the Opera House Committee to continue their work, provided they adhere to a few stipulations. Some council members were reluctant with the repairs and had suggestions and questions for the committee. Council member Pat Morse, who has been vocal about his reluctance regarding the opera house restoration, noted the committee hasn’t shown him much that would change his mind. He pointed out how the Richwood Park improvements have increased business and brought people to town, “This park that you guys have done here is fantastic. That’s bringing people to town. That’s what we need to do. I don’t think remodeling that thing in 20 years, for $2-5 million at this point, is going to do what that park’s doing.”
Committee members asked Morse what he would do instead and he suggested to keep the clock tower, demolish the rest of the opera house and turn it into a green space. Council member Von Beal had similar opinions about setting up a nonprofit and getting the building out of the village’s responsibility. Council member Reddy Brown responded that they had looked into it. Doing so would push the burden of the building, which includes a hefty insurance bill, to the committee. The committee of course not having as many funds to handle the bills.
Committee members were committed to continuing their work noting that they currently have $150,000 in grants which can be used to help stabilize the roof even more making the north side of the building structurally sound. According to the feasibility report, around $900,000 of the $2.9 million required will be needed by residents with the other amount coming from grants. Mayor Scott Jerew suggested the committee fix the rood and then go to residents, such as at the Richwood Fair, and ask what they would be willing to give to support the project. “Continue on the path and bring back some information maybe after the fair, see what the community support is.”