Oak Bluffs selectmen will commission a report on how much it would cost to bring the crumbling Island Theatre into a safe state.

The 101-year-old theatre at the foot of Circuit avenue has been declared dangerous by a board of survey, the town building inspector, and an independent structural engineer.

After meeting in executive session with town counsel Tuesday, selectmen reconvened in public session to hear a report from building inspector Mark Barbadoro, who said the theatre’s condition is hard to comprehend from the outside. “When you’re inside you feel like you want to be outside because you’re worried about the building collapsing around you,” he said, describing a collapsed ceiling, cracks that let light through, a plaster coating crumbling away, and walls dislodging from pilasters that would keep the building standing in heavy wind.

“There’s a real problem here and it’s a real hazard,” the building inspector said.

Any funding to either repair or raze the building would need voter approval at a town meeting. Mr. Barbadoro said in his view, the April town meeting would not allow enough time for action before the summer.

“I think it would be prudent to hold a special town meeting and give the townspeople an opportunity to decide how they want to fix the situation,” he said. “That’s not for me to decide. But what is for me to decide is I’m not comfortable with seeing the building up for another summer. We either need to repair it or knock it down.”

Building inspector Mark Barbadoro: "We either need to repair it or knock it down." — Mark Lovewell

He said he has been in touch with the Department of Public Safety, which is also concerned. “I’m asking for us to move forward at a measured but steady pace towards resolving this before the summertime,” Mr. Barbadoro said.

The theatre is owned by the Hall family; no spokesman for the Halls attended the meeting.

Selectman Kathy Burton questioned what it would take to make the building safe. “I’d personally like to see what it would take to make such a historic structure safe, it it’s at all possible,” she said.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said he has had discussions with Oak Bluffs structural engineer John Lolley, who is qualified to assist and has provided a proposal to the town.

One question, Mr. Whritenour said, is whether the theatre should be brought up to code and made permanently safe or whether the town is looking at a stop-gap measure.

“Let’s be clear about this. We have piece of private property that is owned by a member of the public, and now the responsibility for the permanent restoration and administration of that property rests with the private property owner,” he said. “He’s been ordered to make that building safe and has failed to do so.”

He said the town’s goal should be making the theatre safe, “not permanently but for a period of time that will enable the situation to go back on the proper owner for a permanent resolution...The town doesn’t want to completely reconstruct that building to code unless they owned it or something.”

He concluded: “At this juncture it cannot sit in its current status.”

Mr. Lolley told selectmen it would take about three weeks to create a report on how much work is required. He also said the theatre was built with lime mortar, which deteriorates with time. “The thing is coming apart,” he said. “I can put something together for you or come up with something but no way in hell it’s going to be worth trying to stick this thing back together and bring back to code.”

In response to statements from Mr. Hall that he has not been able to access the building to make or plan for repairs, Mr. Barbadoro said he has granted the owners permission to enter the building several times.

“The best possible outcome would be for him to come in tomorrow with an engineer and say we’d like to go in the building and come up with a plan and apply for a building permit two weeks later,” the building inspector said.

The project will be referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Mr. Barbadoro said, which could require review because the building is more than 100 years old. He said review is not needed by the town historical commission, contrary to what was thought earlier.

The selectmen voted to request the report. “We’ll have more information and we’ll be able to more carefully decide what our next steps are,” Ms. Burton said.

Mr. Whritenour thanked Mr. Barbadoro. “I think this is stressing him out,” he said. “You’ve done a very good thing coming in front of this board and saying what you’ve said. Thank you.”