A plan of action for the crumbling Island Theatre will come before Oak Bluffs voters at town meeting in April, with a $200,000 proposal on the table for temporary repairs to make the downtown structure safe.
Town selectmen agreed Wednesday to put the issue before town meeting voters without a clear consensus among the board about what to do about the theatre at the foot of Circuit avenue, a long-running safety concern among town and state officials.
“On the town [meeting] floor, I think we ought to have a full discussion about which way everybody would like to go,” selectman Walter Vail said.
In December selectmen asked town building inspector Mark Barbadoro to work with structural engineer John Lolley to create a repair plan for the theatre, which is estimated to be about a century old and sits at the foot of Circuit avenue. The theatre is owned by the Hall family and has been vacant for several years. Last year Mr. Barbadoro, a structural engineer, and a board of survey deemed the building dangerous.
The board of survey report issued in November stated that part of the theatre ceiling had collapsed because of a leaking and failed roof, and large vertical cracks appear to have disconnected the walls from pilasters, among other things. Mr. Barbadoro has said he is concerned about the building collapsing. The owners have been ordered to undergo repairs several times, Mr. Barbadoro has said, and failed to do so.
The board of survey determination gave Mr. Barbadoro the authority to order the building’s demolition, but he has turned to the town for guidance and to authorize funding for any action.
The proposal on the town meeting warrant would install bracing on the interior of the theatre to prevent potential collapse of the building. Repairs would be temporary “while owners seek ways to redevelop the property,” the article states. The town would file a lien to recover the costs.
On Wednesday selectmen brushed across the range of options available, from taking the building by eminent domain to ordering demolition, and potential repercussions. The plan is for repairs to be completed before the summer season.
The building inspector said the town is being pushed by the state Department of Public Safety to take care of the building.
“They’ve said if we don’t take care of it they will,” he said. “We won’t like their solutions,” he added, which he said could include closing the street around the theatre.
Mr. Barbadoro said contractors have told him demolishing the building would cost less than $200,000, though he was unsure whether the cost would be higher because of public bidding rules.
Mr. Vail suggested including the possibility of demolition in the warrant article, an idea that board chairman Gail Barmakian said she was reluctant to put forward. She said she thought the costs were unknown, and demolition could be complicated by potential contamination.
“So it’s sort of like a can of worms,” she said. “Unless those questions are answered I would not want to put this town at risk for starting something that can’t be finished or have a hole in the ground with a fence around it...for an undetermined amount of time, and expose this town to potential litigation.”
Repairing the theatre “is the cheapest and easiest thing to do to collect on,” she said.
Taking the building through eminent domain, another option, would likely be time consuming and could lead to legal wrangling.
“That’s a process that could go on for awhile and would probably leave the building in the current condition while the family takes us to court,” Mr. Vail said. He said the assessed value of the building was around $750,000. “I don’t think that’s going to be a price that they would accept by any stretch, and the question is what would the town accept in terms of a negotiated deal,” he said.
Repairs to the building would be hard to stop because they would be a public safety action, Mr. Barbadoro said.
The board ended up agreeing to move the proposal forward to voters at town meeting April 11 while preparing for a wide-ranging discussion.
“I think the bottom line is that this action, if we’re just talking about making it safe, is one we’re pretty sure we’re not going to get stopped from doing,” Mr. Vail said. “And that’s gotta happen.”