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Local theater needs serious TLC, announces $2 million fundraising mission

Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish has been focusing on educating and entertaining its community for the last three decades, but the building is falling apart.

STANDISH, Maine — For the last three decades, Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish has been educating and entertaining its community through various productions and arts camps. 

Right now, rehearsals are underway for "Spongebob the Musical," which kicks off at the end of next month and will be the first main stage production of the year.

"We've got five main stage shows this year. We have summer camps planned," Artistic Director Zachariah Stearn said. "We also have three black box shows and four kids/teen shows."

In order to keep their doors open for many more years to come, though, the building needs some serious maintenance and it comes with a hefty price tag: $2 million. The team at Schoolhouse just launched a capital campaign to make it happen. 

"The building itself is over 100 years old. It has all the original floors, all original doors, hinges, the original slate chalkboards are still downstairs," Stearn said. "That's the charm that we like. We're not looking to renovate and remodel the building, but there are some structural things that need some work."

The theater itself is housed in what used to be Standish High School, in the lower level of the building. There are at least 18 different rooms throughout the old school that are used for everything from rehearsal space to costume storage.

Structural upgrades include things like replacing warped flooring, upgrading windows, and painting the entire exterior of the building. The foundation of the theater is beginning to crumble and needs an overhaul, as does the "green room" where the cast and crew get ready for the show.

"We've had to use blocks just to keep the windows from falling in and there is literally duct tape holding [them] there," Stearn said.

Drafty, old windows don't pair well with the theater's oil bill. Stearn said the theater can go through $10,000 to $12,000 of oil in the winter to keep the cast warm and prevent any freezing. Upgrades will help alleviate some of that financial burden.

Stearn said these upgrades won't just make the place look and feel better but will give them more space and resources to carry out their mission.

"A lot of theaters are very good at putting on a production and having it be slick and smooth and state of the art. We're state of the heart, where the process is more important than the end product," Stearn said. "We've been lucky in the last few years where the end product is top-notch quality."

"We believe in educating all areas of the performing arts which includes design, includes music, includes dance as well as the actual performance," Schoolhouse Board President Gregory Pomeroy said. "In the summer we put well over 100 kids through here and if you look at any of the casts there are tons of teens and kids and young adults. That's what makes us special."

Stearn said they are turning to their community for donations but they are also seeking corporate donors and sponsors.

"We're saying, 'Look, we want you to be involved with what we can do here. We want to show you what we can do and the magic of theater and how it all impacts all of our lives," Stearns said. "So, the process is slow-moving because it's a lot of money but that's what the building needs in order for us to fill our mission even more, and if we are able to make these renovations, the programming expands exponentially."

It's a lot of money, but the team at Schoolhouse has full faith they will reach their goal. 

"In 10 years I see art galleries, I see art shows, I see exhibitions, I see outdoor concerts in the massive parking lot that we have, I see theatrical performances," Stearn said. "A lot of paint, a lot of blood, a lot of love, sweat, and tears needs to go into this place."

To learn more or donate, click here.

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