OPINION: Milestone day for Norwalk Theatre

May 16—In the big picture it really isn't a lot.

But for everybody involved in the rebuild of the old Norwalk Theatre, Monday was a milestone day as the newly-worked "NORWALK" signs were placed atop the building's marquee.

Workers from Wheeler Sheet Metal were out early Monday morning on the job, including family members Steve, Matt and Leslie Wheeler. Also playing a part in the job was Mike Gfell, who Steve jokingly called the "apprentice."

Norwalk Arts Center President Dina Lukasko wrote this piece for the Reflector back in November:

As Norwalk Arts Center enters its fifth year, it's time to take a moment to reflect on what we've accomplished and plan for what's next. Through the tireless effort of our team of volunteers we have brought theater and arts education to Norwalk proving that there was a need to be filled.

Children, families and friends here and in surrounding communities have found their voice with us and we are eager to expand our brand of offering more opportunity for budding young performers and seasoned veterans looking for a place to belong.

Knowingly, we look to 2023 as the year to make the big move and put into motion plans to bring the historic Norwalk Theater back. Through the support of the community and grants from the state, we have been able to get a new roof on the building. This was a key first step as nothing could move forward until the building was dry. Sweat equity offered by our small band of volunteers allowed us to clean out the interior main floor and funding from the state will result in the repair of our spectacular marquee! Along with the roof, one of our greatest accomplishments has been getting our designation on the National Registry of Historic Places. With this distinction, we brought in architects, experienced in historic restoration, to assess the space and put together a plan for what the theater can be.

Equipped with a dry building and a plan, we are excited to move forward in our effort to establish the Norwalk Theater as more than just a home for Norwalk Art Center but also a community gathering place. The proposed renovations will create a space not only suited to theatrical production but also a flexible space that can be used to host events of all types and sizes. Situated in the heart of downtown, this new space will draw people to Main Street resulting in a robust demand for surrounding businesses including restaurants, bakeries, hotels and more.

That's why Monday was such a big day, because you can't have a Norwalk Theatre without the Norwalk sign right out there front and center.

"It's just a great stepping stone to launch this capital campaign," said Norwalk Arts Center Treasurer Kathleen Sigsworth. "I know the community was waiting to see if we could make this come true. I hope the doubts are gone.

"The board is definitely all in on this. The amount of passion and commitment for this project is off the charts."

What next?

"Wheelers are going to continue working on replacing all of the metal — it will all be replaced," Sigsworth said. "Brady Signs wants to come in about June 1 to start all of the wiring. Where the neon signs were they will be replaced by LED roping.

Will there be a lighting ceremony?

"We are hoping for the end of summer, if not sooner," Sigsworth said. "We are hoping to have a party in the street with the blessing of the mayor, of course. He has been very supportive."

Once the marquee is finished the work will move inside — and it won't be cheap.

The price tag has been put at $10 million.

"$10 million total ... if we raise $6 million we can get $4 million in tax credits," Sigsworth said. "We are looking for grants and putting together a capital campaign committee."

"We are no strangers to big projects, but this is definitely the biggest one I have been involved in."

There are nine board members of the Norwalk Arts Center:

—Vanessa Cook, Co-Founder and NAC Board Secretary

—Theresa Barcus. Co-Founder and Ex-Officio Board member

—Dina Lukasko, Board President

—Kathleen Sigsworth, Treasurer

—Jeffery Cook, Vice President

—Mary Lisa Boose, Grants Chairperson

—Tina Ruffing, Arts Education Chairperson

—Lisa Bleile, Business Affairs Chairperson

—Marina Bayless, production Chairperson

And while all of the work and fundraising has been going on for the building, the group is now housed in the old Woolworths store on East Main Street for all of its classes and productions.

"It's actually been a two-legged stool," Sigsworth said. "We have the business side trying to raise money for the building, and on the other side we have the arts side raising money to keep it going. Two different businesses going."

The arts side is financed by grants, revenue and registration fees.

"We wanted to build the program up so when we do get the building done we have a group of kids and community members ready to go on stage," Sigsworth said.

Sigsworth said she wanted to give a special thanks to Wheeler Sheet Metal, Josh Shaull of Rain Drop Products from Ashland, who painted the letters, and Extol of Ohio, located in Norwalk, which fabricated the letters.

"This has been a pretty good project for them (Wheeler) and they are leaving a signature for Wheeler Sheet Metal to be proud of," Sigsworth said.

Joe Centers is Reflector community editor. He can be reached at jcenters@norwalkreflector.com.