The historic Auburn Schine Theater on South Street has new words on its marquee — but that may just be the beginning.
New partnerships between building owners the Cayuga County Arts Council and Bouley Enterprises and Beardsley Design Associates have reinvigorated the theater project, council board member Collin Sullivan said Friday.
Led by new project manager Todd Coleman, of Bouley, the parties have established a first phase of action to restore and reopen the 1938 theater that focuses mostly on asbestos removal, with some marquee renovation also possible.
What work can be done this year is subject to state grants, which the council will apply for this summer and potentially be awarded in the fall.
Only recently was the full extent of the theater's asbestos contamination assessed, Sullivan said, through a Brownfield-funded study conducted by the city, as well as a Beardsley evaluation in April, he said.
"The finishes are falling down because of the deterioration, and what that does is, because you have asbestos on pipes around the building, it has settled on the ground and it moves around the air," said Beardsley Project Manager Edward Onori. "So it just kind of moves through the building."
With its new-found grasp of the obstacles before them, the council is eager to update the public on its progress with the Schine, Sullivan said. Coleman and council members have been more active outside the theater in recent weeks, placing lettering on new marquee plating and project information in the poster cases, whose silver trim has also been repainted.
A public information session will be hosted Thursday, June 12, at Swaby's, where the council board will likely field many of the same questions they had when they began their terms in 2010, Sullivan said. Thanks in large part to Bouley and Beardsley — as well as Coleman, who translates the architectural reports for the council — those questions can now be answered, Sullivan said.
"Anybody can look and say, 'OK, you have a big problem and you need a lot of money,'" he said. "You need the expert to say, 'OK, you need the money to do this and this, and then you can do that' — to put it all into perspective and help us wrap our heads around how to deal with it."
After the asbestos comes the rest of the Schines Theater. A Crawford & Stearns building condition survey conducted in December — funded by a Technical Assistance Grant from the Preservation League of New York State — found that on the whole, the building is structurally in good shape, Sullivan said.
Thus the marquee and masonry are next in line for improvement. The council is hopeful they receive enough grant funding this year to also support the marquee's rejuvenation and the restoration of some deteriorating brick. Onori said both projects will shield the theater from the elements, preventing future problems. But the work will also have symbolic benefits, Sullivan said.
"We want to do something that people can see and take pride in, and get them excited like we're excited," Sullivan said. "Make the place look like a theater that just needs a little help, and it'll be ready to open."
Because the question marks surrounding the project have previously resulted in unmet expectations and disappointment, Sullivan is reluctant to place a timetable or a dollar amount on the theater's full restoration. As for this year's state grant process, he said a $1 million award package would be the best-case scenario. And the worst case wouldn't stop the theater's resurrection — just slow it, he said.
"This is all going to be done," he said. "It all depends on what the funding is."