Busy construction site

Thursday, December 17, 2009
(Photo by Russ Mitchell) Work continues in the background Thursday as a $1.5 million renovation and expansion continues at Spencer Community Theatre. The project is set for completion in the fall of 2010, according to SCT Executive Director Connie Goeken.

SCT not quite ready for its close-up

Like the distinguished Hollywood starlet who wants to prolong her career, the Spencer Community Theatre building has gone in for a nip here and a tuck there.

The region's theater fans can expect to see better performances from the ol' girl as a result.

"This, I think will really kick things up a notch and really make this a premiere performing arts facility for northwest Iowa," said Connie Goeken, executive director for SCT. "We think that we will be able to expand our programming yet again. We'll have the space to do that."

Steel beams were going up Thursday morning as the shell of the expanded area begins to take shape. The cool, soggy October put a crimp in the project time line -- construction crews couldn't complete some cement work. Construction will continue throughout the winter. The goal of the contractor is to have all of the building actually enclosed by March.

"We got set back just a little bit with the bad weather this fall, but not a tremendous amount," Goeken said. "Nothing that's worrisome right now, but the rain prevented a lot."

Once the shell is up, concrete can be poured on the interior. Goeken thinks contractors will be able to recover from the weather-induced delays in time for the planned re-opening in October.

"We thought we might be in there a little earlier -- in September -- so we could have a grand opening," Goeken said. "I'm not saying that still won't happen, but our architect has told us that, when you are about three or four months out from what had been the planned completion date, you can tell, pretty accurately at that point, where you're at."

Spencer Community Theatre began an extensive renovation and expansion in early fall to enhance the performance and viewing experiences for guests.

The $1.5 million project will include a new lobby and larger restrooms. The new multipurpose room is designed with workshops and receptions in mind.

Audiences will enjoy better lighting and sound. Performers will have a bigger stage. A better working space for set construction also is in the works.

The building will have a better street presence on the First Avenue East side of the building as well.

An expansion had been discussed for years, but the generous donation of $500,000 from the Dvergsten Charitable Foundation allowed those ambitions to become a reality.

"That's really when the intense planning on our part started to happen," Goeken said. "We'd been doing some long-range planning before that. It did include enlarging our theater, but when that money became available, that really was the impetus for us to really put together a concrete plan."

Goeken also credited an "outstanding" board of directors as well as a staff who stepped up in a year when their performances have been relocated.

"We're very spoiled because we have our facility," Goeken said. "Many, many community theaters around the state and nation don't have a permanent home and they have to perform wherever there's space. They face the challenges all of the time that we're facing now, which is rehearsing in one space, which isn't our own, then moving everything into another space, which isn't our own."

The executive director expects to have a good idea of the completion date in late spring.

"I'm going to be walking around pinching myself when it finally gets open and we've got it done," Goeken said. "It's really going to take us to the next step in our theater's development."

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  • I love the SCT endeavors, but why can't they use the new event center as their new venue? It would save a ton of money and use an already beautiful building.

    -- Posted by Molly Weasley on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 8:31 AM
  • Have you attended any of the shows that have been put on in the Events Center so far? While the venue "works" for the time being, and it is awesome that SCT and the CCREC can work together on the endeavor, the space is not very accommodating to the process required to put on a production.

    One example of this is set construction. From what I understand, while SCT is without a home, their sets have to be constructed at one location and then moved to the Events Center shortly before the performance happens. This in turn leads to less elaborate sets, (Have you seen how amazing some of the past ones have been?) less time for the actors to rehearse with a completely constructed set, and a lot of extra man hours needing to be put into the process.

    Another issue with the CCREC hosting the productions is that other events have to be put on hold or become a distraction to those wanting to view a SCT performance. During the first play of the season, I attended on a Saturday afternoon, and was definitely disappointed that I had to listen to all of the noise coming from the wedding reception that was happening in one of the ballrooms during the performance. Blame it on bad planning or whatever, but I certainly didn't enjoy the show as much as I could have. Also, we continue to hear about how people want more (and bigger) acts to come to the area. This is fine, but if SCT is filling up the Events Center on a regular basis forever, that could keep other acts out of there.

    Also, the Events Center was not constructed to house play productions this small. The acoustics there are not suited for what SCT does, and a person who loves to attend plays, I find the lack of "ambiance" at the Events Center a bit cold and distracting.

    My biggest complaint as someone who attends SCT productions and has been involved with them in the past is the fact that while performances are happening at the Events Center, the flexibility of show dates and times has gone down. At the theatre, shows are performed for two weekends, giving attendees more choices as to when they can go. At the Events Center we are only getting to choose from on weekend of performances.

    I am certain there are other reasons that could be added to my arguement. And please don't think that I am complaining. I think that what the Events Center and SCT have done to make sure that productions continue during reconstruction of the theatre is amazing. It takes a lot of work to coordinate events like that. However, I don't think your idea about using the Events Center permanently is such a good idea.

    -- Posted by aworkingmom on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 10:01 AM
  • I attended Oklahoma & A Christmas Story at CCREC. I couldn't hear a thing during Oklahoma and during A Christmas Story the sound was so shrill it almost hurt to listen. I know this isn't SCT's fault and despite the sound problems both were great performances. SCT needs their own updated facility to continue to provide the community with quality entertainment. If Spencer, as a community, has anything going for it it's their art and entertainment endeavors. They should capitalize on these aspects more and see where they could take the community economically. They continually boast their historic downtown and the new theatre will be an asset to this claim. I think Spencer would be better off to market itself as an artsy community rather than an industrial one because heaven knows industry is not flocking to the area. This new theatre is a step in the right direction.

    I also heard that CCREC charged SCT rent plus took a portion of their ticket sales. This may just be rumor but if not it doesn't show community spirit.

    Molly, I must disagree with you. The CCREC is not a beautiful building. It's a huge eyesore right in the middle of the entrance to what used to be a nostalgic looking fair ground. In my opinion it was a bad decision to build it (especially on the fairgrounds) and is a liability to the community. The money being spent to renovate the theatre is definitely money well spent.

    -- Posted by letsbereal on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 10:55 AM
  • In order to properly present GOOD theater, there must be adequate facilities. Ambient noise, like trains, cars and sirens are a problem the old building had. the SCT program requires an almost constant use of their stage for rehearsal, set construction, and production of the shows. SCT has proven it's self a vital member of the region, surrounding Spencer, and serves the needs of players of all ages, musicians, directors, costumers and back stage talent. The audience is only one facet of this operation. With the present location and the convenience there in, the children make good use of the stage in Summer and the events center can't possibly replace all that goes on there. The old auditorium was ill suited from day one and we all deserve a REAL theater to enjoy what is being done here. In the future we can expect to see better stage work from all the elements of this new building.

    Uncomfortable seats, poor acoustics, no curtains and proscenium are just a few of the limitations in using the CCREC. I can't tell you how much the CCREC draws down the over quality of a theater production there.

    I am very pleased to see the new auditorium going up and know just how awkward it would be to get the same quality performances in some other arrangement, ie Old Auditorium, CCREC, school gym, you name it. I only hope that we are able to see the new building finished in time for the next season. I hope we can come together as a community to help finish the job with volunteer labor and donations as the case may be.

    -- Posted by A. View Point on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 1:13 PM
  • Also, Molly, the money for these improvements was donated by a charitable organization. I think they are completely at liberty to choose what they contribute to, and based on the rest of the comments here (as well as the story), they made a great choice.

    -- Posted by notinia on Fri, Dec 18, 2009, at 11:36 AM
  • The Clay County Regional Events Center is a wonderful facility for a community the size of Spencer. It has been a blessing to have for many events, including a 'pinch hit' this season for SCT. However, the completed theatre will be a dream-come-true. I'll savor even more the performances in a facility that is designed and constructed for theatre. I am waiting with excitement for SCT's debut in 2010.

    -- Posted by ruralgirl on Fri, Dec 18, 2009, at 5:20 PM
  • Molly I swear you would complain if your ice cream was cold. Be thankful we have a charitable organization that feels its important to provide a wonderful place to show our area peoples talents in theature...

    Maybe a New Years Resolution for some should be,... complain and whine less, and be thankful for what is given.

    I can't wait to have a wonderful location to go see plays.

    -- Posted by iowaborn on Fri, Dec 18, 2009, at 5:58 PM
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