The Town entered an agreement with the Friends of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House, Inc. to provide management services for the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House effective July 1, 2017. Friends of the Town Hall Opera House (FPOH) is a not-for-profit membership organization created with the assistance of the former co-managers of the Town Hall, Sarah Lowry and Jade Walker. Sarah and Jade moved on to other challenges in June 2017, after getting the facility up and running again when it re-opened in 2014. They were given a well-earned “Thank You” dinner at Positive Pie in Plainfield by FPOH, along with framed certificates of appreciation.
With Sarah and Jade’s departure, day-to-day management of the Town Hall Opera House is being handled by a five-member board of directors of the FPOH, who are elected by the members. Directors and members of FPOH provide volunteer services to promote the use of the Town Hall Opera House and to see that things operate smoothly. Current directors are: Keith Swann (President); Kathy Light (Vice-President); David Strong (Secretary); Tom Blachly (Treasurer), and Naomi Flanders (at-large). Board vacancies are filled at annual membership meetings held in June of each year. Annual membership dues make up a substantial portion of the FPOH budget. Sixty people were paid members of the FPOH in 2017.
Special thanks are due to FPOH member Steven Light, who volunteered to take on the task of Booking Coordinator for events at the Town Hall starting July 1st.
The task of scheduling events has been smoothed as a result of the development and use of the website for the Town Hall Opera House, www.plainfieldoperahousevt.org, for scheduling and rental information. This is due to the expertise and dedication of Delia Gillan, the “webmaster” for FPOH, who worked with Sarah and Jade to design this tool for managing and promoting the Town’s attractive and busy rental facility.
Town Clerk/Treasurer Linda Wells continues to handle all rental deposits and rental fees. In the 2017 calendar year, revenue from the use of the Town Hall totaled $6,155 or roughly $500/month. Under the current FY17/18 contract, FPOH is to receive $2,000 from the Town for providing management services. An increase to $3,000 is proposed for FY 18/19.
The Town Hall Opera House had another busy year, with something happening there 139 days out of the year. The Friends of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House launched the first of what is hoped to be an annual concert series, attracting an appreciative audience of 400. The 2017 program featured five events: performances by FREVO; Anima and the Fyre & Lightning Consort; pianist Diane Huling Reed; Plainfield’s own Gamelan Sulukala; and a dedication celebration of our new grand piano. Plans have been finalized for the 2018 concert season, which features Sunday afternoon programs once a month from January through May. Don’t miss them!
In addition to the Concert Series, there were five other musical performances at the Town Hall Opera House in 2017 – concerts by Pandit Deobrat Mishra, Marina Carleton, My Gay Banjo, Cold Country Bluegrass and Viva La Musica. Two movies were offered as well – including the Rocky Horror Picture Show (supplemented by live performers). “Sing, Dance and Jump Around” held four community dances, and Plainfield Little Theater premiered a production of Tom Blachly’s play The Idiot’s Tale.
Two fund-raisers, three private parties (including two weddings), and two private high school graduation ceremonies took place at the Town Hall Opera House this year, along with a Winter Farmers Market. The Annual Old Home Day Revue, held in September, continues to draw big crowds. Thanks to this year’s MCs John Harrison and Owen Bradley for putting together a fun show.
Youth theatre remains a mainstay at the Town Hall Opera House. 2017 saw musical productions by students at Orchard Valley and Central Vermont High School. In addition, the Vermont Youth Theater used the Town Hall for rehearsals and for shows, and the two-week “Shakespeare Camp” run by Echo Valley Community Arts returned for its fourth season this summer.
The grand piano in the Town Hall, purchased last year for $5,000 with funds raised by the FPOH in 2016, has helped expand the range of programming at the Town Hall. Two of the 2017 Concert Series programs couldn’t have happened without it. It was also used for musical theater productions as well as for community dance programs.
The use of the Hall for public meetings continues to grow. Municipal meetings were frequently held there, including those of the Public Safety Committee, the Select Board, the Planning Board, and the Development Review Board. The Plainfield Historical Society held its Annual Meeting there again this year, and the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission held an informational session, as well. All and all, the Hall hosted forty public meetings in 2017.
Maintenance and Improvements
The exterior of the three visible sides of the Town Hall were painted this fall, and the sign was freshened up, as well. Paint colors were chosen by a four- person advisory committee appointed by the Select Board. Committee members Chris Bellamy, Ross Sneyd, David Strong, and Linda Wells were surprised to discover that the original color of the building, after it was converted from a Universalist Church to an Opera House in 1912, was slate blue. That color was rejected as being too extreme a change, however. The colors that were chosen were inspired by the colors of the 2nd Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury and were approved by the Preservation Trust of Vermont (which oversees changes to the building’s appearance). Special thanks are due to Greg D’Agostino of Greg’s Painting, and his crew, for doing a thorough, professional job on the main body of the building. (The lower level in the front is the town’s responsibility. Thanks to volunteers Dave Strong and Linda Wells, the first coat of paint was completed before cold weather set in).
A new refrigerator for the kitchen in the Town Hall was purchased in 2017, after the old one, which had been in use at the Town Hall for decades, failed.
The painting of the building’s exterior completes the major maintenance and system upgrades the building required. It has taken five years of concerted effort, but the building is in much better shape today than it’s been in 175 years. Off-site conditions are still poor in critical respects, however. The hazards for pedestrians walking up from the lower village, and the dangers of crossing Route 2 remain. Moreover, there isn’t enough parking available for even moderate-sized events at the Town Hall. Fortunately, efforts are underway to correct these conditions and reduce these liabilities.
The inconvenience and dangers facing pedestrians who walk between the Town Hall Opera House and the lower village, and for people who park in the Town Hall lot and wish to cross Route 2 to get to and from Town Hall events, are familiar to everyone. Those conditions will be corrected as soon as the Main Street Pedestrian Bridge/Sidewalk Project is completed. This project is well underway and is fully funded (thanks to grant-writing help from Alice Merrill). By 2019, people will be able to safely cross the Winooski River at Mill Street on the south (downriver) side of the existing bridge on Main Street in the lower village. From there, a new sidewalk will along the south side of Main Street/Route 2 where it will terminate at an AOT-approved crosswalk opposite the Town Hall Opera House. This will allow for a safe and signalized crossing. Approximately 85% of the cost of this project is covered the State Agency of Transportation Bike/Ped grant program. The remainder of the Town’s share is being paid out of the Arch Batchelder Reserve Fund.
Along with the need for safe passage across Route 2, the lack of nearby space for event parking is the other major off-site issue the Town Hall faces. The current lot, on the south side of Route 2 opposite the Town Hall, is only big enough for 10 or 11 cars. Although, in the past, space at Wrisley’s Garage was been permitted for weekend and evening parking, that option for additional parking is no longer available. Fortunately, a long-term solution of the parking problem has been found.
The Plainfield Select Board has voted to take advantage of an opportunity to increase the size of the Town Hall parking lot, by entering into a purchase and sale agreement with the owners of the property directly across from the Town Hall (25 High Street). The Town and the owners have agreed on a sales price of $70,000. If the Article is approved at Town Meeting, the area behind and to the east of the house, with minor grading, will immediately double the space available for Town Hall parking. Another six or seven spaces would result if the building was removed.
As a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation, the Friends of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House has launched a fund drive to raise $20,000 to assist the Town in the purchase of this property for parking purposes. The building on the property, known as the Gallison House, is on the National Historic Register as part of the Village Historic District. The Selectboard has reached out to Preservation Trust of Vermont for assistance in assessing the condition of the buildings on the property, and members of the Plainfield Historical Society are exploring ways the house might be restored.
Once the goal of adequate parking for Town Hall events has been realized, the Friends of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House has taken on the added task of raising funds for the construction of a long-planned backstage addition to the Town Hall, the foundation of which has already been poured.
Communication & Participation
A monthly newsletter that lists the upcoming schedule of events, which is emailed to members and others who request it, is available. Contact Steven at email@example.com for a free subscription. The Directors of the FPOH meet the third Monday of every month at 6:30 pm at the Town Hall Opera House. Meetings are open to the general public as well as members. If you are interested in joining the FPOH, contact Dave Strong at firstname.lastname@example.org or 454-1418. The membership fee for 2018 is $25, which includes free admission to one of the events in the 2018 Concert Series. To rent the Hall for an event or private party, go to the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House website: www.plainfieldoperahousevt.net. For general questions about the FPOH, contact Keith Swann at email@example.com or 224-6858.
Note: an edited version of this report is in the Town of Plainfield Annual Report – 2017.
Activity at the hall continues to grow. In 2016, the building was in use for 175 days (an average of every other day). On ten of those days there were two separate activities the same day. The hall hosted ninety separate events open to the public in 2016, compared to sixty the previous year. And it continues to play a vital role as the only handicapped-accessible space in town suitable for large public meetings.
The largest type of use at the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House in 2016 was for theatrical productions – amounting to thirty-one percent of all usage. (This includes rehearsals and set-building time). Because of its attractive appearance, acoustic quality, and affordability, the Town Hall Opera House theater is increasingly popular. Echo Valley Community Art’s ambitious production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte and the Plainfield Little Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That End’s Well” were highlights of the 2016 theater season.
In addition, the Vermont Youth Theater and the Shakespeare in the Hills Summer Camp regularly take advantage of the theater.
The next most frequent users in 2016 were local alternative schools. They accounted for 28% of the rental slots. The Central Vermont Initiative continues to use the hall for dance classes, recitals and theater productions, and the Orchard Valley Waldorf School hosts some of its yearly plays by grade level in the Opera House. The hall continues to host school graduations (Maple Hill School and The Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier), recalling one of its important functions in years past.
The hall was used for public meetings on Town business on twenty-eight occasions (15% of all activities) making this the third most frequent use in 2016. The hall is also becoming a meeting spot for non-governmental community organizations, who held sixteen meetings there in 2016 (9% of all use). Other frequent uses included eleven music or song programs, ten programs for children – including puppet shows and family contra dances. The Plainfield Farmers Market is a welcome new addition to Town Hall, holding winter markets in November and December (and into 2017).
With all of this activity, the Town Hall Opera House is on track to meet its goal of taking in $6,500 in rental fees in FY16/17. The success of the Town Hall Opera House from an operating standpoint is largely due to the diligence and enthusiasm of the two co-Event Managers, Sarah Lowry and Jade Walker, who have established positive relations with the many tenants who use the hall, as well as systems for handling renter applications and inquiries, in the two and one-half years they have been on the job. The hall would not be in the vibrant condition that it is today without them. We owe them a big “thank you” for getting the hall back on its feet. They will be winding up their service to the town at the end of this fiscal year. We wish them the best in the new career paths they have chosen.
The proposed budget for the maintenance and operation of the Town Hall Opera House for
FY17/18 is $21,000, which is $1,800 less than the current FY16/17 budget. The biggest change in the FY17/18 budget is the proposed elimination of the paid Events Manager position. This position was created in FY14/15 to re-build rental use when the Town Hall re-opened after being closed for several years, and to help develop policies and procedures for widespread use of the Hall by multiple tenants that would relieve the Town Clerk’s office of front-line management and oversight of the Town Hall.
Another task of the Events Manager has been to help develop a community-based non-profit “Friends of the Town Hall Opera House” capable of providing event management services going forward. We believe these goals have been met and that events management tasks can be transferred to members of the “Friends of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House”, using the new systems and on-line capabilities that have been or will be developed by the end of FY16/17.
The Friends of the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House, Inc. is incorporated as a not-for-profit under the laws of the State of Vermont and has filed its application for 501(c)3 status with the IRS. It currently has a paid membership of over 50 people and its five-member Executive Board is composed of people who have many years’ experience programming, managing and improving the Town Hall Opera House (Keith Swann, Kathy Light, Tom Blachly, David Strong, and Naomi Flanders).
The “Friends” have agreed to enter a contract with the Town of Plainfield to assume the responsibilities and obligations formerly provided by the Events Manager and the Plainfield Town Hall Advisory Committee for FY17/18 for a fee of $2,000. The contract will have features similar to the current Events Manager contract, such as liability insurance and reporting requirements and the right to curate a certain number of events rent-free.
All of the other line items for Town Hall operations remain basically the same, with the exception of the budget for maintenance and repair. Although actual maintenance and repair costs are level-funded, the proposed FY17/18 budget includes a one-time fee of $2,500 payable to the State Division for Fire Safety on construction completed at the Town Hall between 2013 and 2016. This needs to be paid to receive a final building permit. The current fee is $8.00 per $1,000 of construction and rehabilitation work. The cost of the work done on the Town Hall Opera House over that period amounts to approximately $300,000. (300 x 8 = 2400). This expense is more than offset by the proposed $4,500 reduction in Town Hall Management costs.
A standing seam roof and exterior repairs were completed in FY16/17 with the help of a $20,000 matching grant from the State Division for Historic Preservation. In FY17/18, the building’s exterior facing Route 2 and Harvey Hill will be painted. In addition, the planned pedestrian bridge over the Winooski and the sidewalk connecting the Mill Street Park and the south side of Route 2 opposite the Town Hall is slated for completion in 2017. When that work is done, the walk between the lower village and the Town Hall will be much more convenient. The sidewalk will terminate just past the Town Hall parking lot opposite the Town Hall. A VTrans-designated crosswalk at that location will allow for much safer pedestrian passage across High Street.
In October, 2016, the Friends of the Town Hall Opera House raised money to purchase a grand piano for the Town Hall, replacing the worn out baby grand. An article about this effort appeared in The Bridge (October 6 - October 19 issue). Over half of the funds for the piano were donated by members of the Strong and Reid families in honor of Jane Reid Strong, who was an accompanist for the Barre Choraleers and played the organ at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Barre for many years. A concert dedicating the piano in her memory will be held this summer.
Finally, the Friends of the Town Hall Opera House are launching a drive to raise the money necessary to build a two-story “back-stage” addition behind the Town Hall. The building permit for this construction project has already been granted and the foundation is already in-place. More information about this much-needed capital improvement campaign will be available at Town Meeting.
The Friends of the Town Hall Opera House meets the third Monday of every month at 6:30 pm at the Town Hall. Call Keith Swann at 224-6858 for more information. You can learn more about the Plainfield Town Hall Opera House and the Friends of the Town Hall Opera House at
Note: This report appeared in the Town of Plainfield Annual Report – 2016.
2015 was our first full year at the re-opened Town Hall Opera House and it has been a very exciting one! Programming has grown and the number of renters has continued to increase steadily, compared with the last half of 2014. The Opera House has been a venue for a wide range of programs and activities put on by dozens of local residents and organizations, and the events we have hosted have attracted Plainfield residents as well as folks from all over the state.
Over the last year we have had theater, puppetry, music, and film screenings featuring local artist from Plainfield and surrounding areas as well as touring artists from upstate New York, Philadelphia, New York City, Western Mass, and New Orleans.
The facility has also hosted community square dances, birthday parties, dance parties, and voice recitals as well as the second annual Plainfield Holiday Farmers Market and Trunk Sale!
Local schools are some of the Opera House’s most consistent renters. The Central Vermont Initiative is using the hall for movement classes, recitals and big theater productions, and the Orchard Valley Waldorf School hosts some of its yearly plays by grade level in the Opera House. The hall has also been the site of several school graduations (Maple Hill School and The Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier), recalling one of its key functions in earlier days.
The Town Hall Opera House has become a regular meeting spot for organizations such as Central Vermont SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), Parents and Educators for Racial Justice, and Rising Tide Vermont – in part because it is one of the few large meeting spaces in the area that is handicapped-accessible. And of course, it continues to play a vital role as the only space in town suitable for large public meetings on town business – held by the Select Board, the Planning Commission, the Development Review Board, the Town Conservation Commission – and, of course, our annual Town Meeting.
We are pleased to report that there is now a thriving monthly family dance – “Sing, Dance and Jump Around” – at the Town Hall Opera House, and that the facility continues its long tradition as an affordable rehearsal and performance space for local theater-makers including Echo Valley Community Arts, Plainfield Little Theatre, the Shakespeare Alive summer camp for kids, and the Vermont Youth Theater.
In 2015, 60 public events and 12 private events were held at the Town Hall Opera House, attended by roughly 3000 people. The Select Board, through the work of the Events Coordinators and the Town Hall Opera House Advisory Committee, wants to keep those numbers growing.
In 2016, we have ambitious plans to add to the uses of the Opera House. We want to increase children’s programming, as well as encourage the development of local performance series, such as a series of classical music concerts. We are committed to the goal of increasing long-term programming that is community-led.
We are also hopeful that an important ally will emerge in 2016 to help look after our community’s venerable the Town Hall Opera House in the years ahead in the form of a new organization – the Friends of the Plainfield Opera House – which is being organized by supporters and regular users of the Town Hall Opera House with the Select Board’s encouragement. The Town of Plainfield has done an outstanding job of getting the Town Hall Opera House up and running and now it’s time for the people of the greater Plainfield to step in, to shape a path for a new arts and cultural scene in Central Vermont, focused in and around this beautiful building! Friends of the Plainfield Opera House will help with the operation of the hall, raise funds for special programming, facility amenities, and building improvements, and develop concert series and other long-term programming of interest to its membership and the people of Plainfield.
We are committed to making this space accessible to the Plainfield community by both bringing cultural programming to the town, as well as keeping it affordable and easy to rent for residents of Plainfield. This is your building! Let’s continue to see it be used as thoroughly and lovingly as possible!
Please contact Sarah Lowry and Jade Walker, the Events Managers, at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the mailing list for events at the Town Hall Opera House or to find out more about the Friends of the Plainfield Opera House organization that is now being formed.
Note: This report appeared in the Town of Plainfield Annual Report – 2015.