In less than a month the stage at the Ellen Eccles Theatre will be ready for the summer season, and the ongoing major upgrades to the infrastructure of the 1923 building will pause before resuming the day after the opera season ends in August.
As part of the capital campaign launched in advance of the 25th anniversary of the renovation of the theatre earlier this year, the Cache Valley Center for the Arts embarked on a $6 million journey to upgrade things seen and unseen.
Wendi Hassan, executive director of Cache Arts, is amazed at the work done during the previous renovation, but after 25 years and 1.4 million audience members, the theater had started to show its age.
“Things in here have held up really well, but when you reach that useful life span and then stretch it as much as you can after that, things start to go all together,” Hassan said. Since the launch of the capital campaign, Cache Arts raised nearly $2.6 million with an additional $1 million raised over the course of the past year as they work toward a matching grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.
With the funding for the improvements, Hassan said Cache Arts is only tackling projects as they have money and have ranked the upgrades in order of need. While some projects may not be vital, Hassan said they go hand-in-hand with another project, which saves them money in the long run.
Planning the work has been a bit of a task as the theatre’s schedule is decided over a year in advance. Hassan said much of the work happening this summer has been planned since she took the helm of Cache Arts three years ago.
As sets are being moved in and positioned in the wings for the upcoming Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre season, work below the stage to replace the 1.2 million BTU boiler has begun in preparation for two new boilers.
“The HVAC is the project that will cost us the most. We knew the boiler needed to be replaced and the software running it is 25 years old. The word 25-year-old and software should not be used in the same sentence,” Hassan said.
Currently, the theatre has no way to mix the air inside the building, leaving patrons closer to the stage 20 degrees cooler than those sitting in the back of the balcony.
Hassan joked the theatre could save $1 million by changing the seating structure and charge based on the temperatures people felt comfortable sitting in. The most popular temperature would be at a premium and the could possibly have a flex pass allowing those who couldn’t make up their mind the opportunity to move around.
The heating and cooling of the theatre with the current system is either all on or all off, giving the facility little room to make changes to keep patrons comfortable, Hassan said.
In the summer, the facility is cooled using canal water diverted from 100 South into the basement, which is then hit with blowers forcing cool air throughout the building.
Hassan said with the addition of silent fans and new air returns in the balcony they will be able to mix the air and provide a balanced temperature throughout the theatre.
Days after the UFOMT wraps it season, the three telecommunications towers atop the stage house will be removed and work will begin to replace the patchwork quilt roof dating back to 1923.
In addition to the roof work, carpet throughout the theatre will be replaced mimicking the style currently installed.
“The 25-year-old carpet was beautifully made and wonderfully installed and has held up quite well,” Hassan said. “But once you start fixing this little section of carpet and that little section, it starts to break down.”
Hassan hopes the work doesn’t cause too many inconveniences for patrons but that they will appreciate the changes and welcome the upgrades throughout.
“It will be a pardon-our-dust situation. Patrons will notice some things. We will maybe have a color on the wall as we hope to paint before the new carpet comes in. The color will be to match the new carpet, not what is currently there, so that could be jarring to some,” Hassan said.
Hassan said the window after the UFOMT season ends and the Music Theatre West production of “Oklahoma!” at the end of September gives them limited time, but there will be some dramatic changes.
“We have loved her to death. We have really loved and used her. We are excited to reinvest in her and to have her continue to be an asset and a place where people can gather perform and learn,” Hassan said.