Town Hall Theater preserves historic character of building while enlarging stage door

MIDDLEBURY — There was only one problem with the original 1884 loading dock door at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater. It was too small to actually load anything into the theater.
“The original door gave us a 4’ by 6’ opening, far too small for the kinds of set pieces we use in productions today,” said THT executive director Douglas Anderson. “The old door was historic and lovely, but it seriously limited the kinds of productions and events we could host here at THT.”
Anderson had two problems. He had to raise the money for the construction of a new, larger door, an expensive proposition in that it required cutting through brick and supporting the wall with new structural steel. And he and his team had to design a new door that would meet the stringent rules of historical preservation.
The design and installation of the new door was done by a team that included Ashar Nelson of VIA, Bread Loaf Corporation, Nop’s Metalworks and Stark Mountain Woodworking. “They did a phenomenal job,” says Anderson. “Although the new door is four times larger than the original, most people walk by the building and don’t notice any change whatsoever.” The new door met with the approval of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. “I really think it’s a textbook case of how to improve an historic building in the most sensitive way possible,” says Anderson.
Financing for the door was underwritten in part by a $15,000 Cultural Facilities Grant administered by the Vermont Arts Council. “This is an inspired program,” says Anderson. “Various funders give money to support the arts, but often the buildings that contain arts events are overlooked, and when those buildings are historic there can be recurring problems of maintenance and upkeep. The VAC Cultural Facilities Grants have helped literally hundreds of arts organizations maintain and improve their buildings.”
   THE NEW LOADING dock door at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury is four times bigger than the original door.

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