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The Park Theatre in Jaffrey was established in 1922 when Italian immigrant Romolo Vanni purchased a Main Street house and converted the barn into a movie theater. (Courtesy)

Jaffrey's Park Theatre project gets planning commission boost

JAFFREY - An environmental cleanup vital for the Park Theatre renovation and expansion project to move forward is being undertaken by Southwest Region Planning Commission's Brownfields Assessment Program.

"That's $42,000 dollars estimated. Isn't that something? That's the kind of a support that a project like this really needs," said Caroline Hollister, chairman of the theater board, on Thursday.

It is a big step forward for the project since remediation of hazardous materials is absolutely mandatory before any construction or improvement can begin, she said.

Last spring an environmental study of the property identified what is likely an oil tank buried in the alleyway beside the Park Theatre. The regional commission has long been supportive of the grassroots project that started in 2005 to reopen the town's old movie theater. Built in 1922, the Park Theatre closed its doors in 1976. Plans to reopen the theater include a 400-seat main auditorium that would host year-round movies, concerts and live performances, as well as serve as a venue for area school productions and a youth program called ParkArts.

In 2007 the commission identified the Park Theatre project as one of its "Priority Projects," noting that "opening the Park Theatre supports the strategic economic goals for the Monadnock Region."

Mia Moravis, Park Theatre media director, said that although the board of trustees had hoped to have broken ground on the project by now, significant progress has been made over the past year in reaching the $1.25 million fundraising mark for the $2 million project.

"It was a jump in the dicey economy, but this is another step forward to doing the renovation," Moravis said. Hollister said that while fundraising continues, the lengthy site plan approval is what has prevented the project from breaking ground this fall.

After 13 months before the town planning board, site plan approval is expected to be received in December or January, Hollister said.

"We haven't lost heart. We're still moving forward," Hollister said.

Once site plan approval is granted by the planning board, another round of approvals and permitting processes at the town, state and federal government levels would begin pertaining to the removal of any hazardous materials, Hollister said.

"I can't see that taking less than two to three months," she said.

The Southwest Region Planning Commission has already helped this next step along by accepting the Park Theatre into its Brownfields Assessment Program, Hollister said.

Depending on that approval process, the soonest the project could start would be next summer or fall, she said. The site plan hearing regarding the Park Theatre continues Dec. 11.


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