Nova Scotia

Fire-damaged Chester Playhouse expected to reopen in spring 2023

The Chester Playhouse was heavily damaged last year when a fire broke out mere weeks before a refurbishment was completed.

Municipality of Chester, provincial government contributing total of $400K toward the rebuild

The Chester Playhouse, which was damaged in a fire last year, will receive funding from the municipality and the province for its rebuild. It is expected to reopen in 2023. (Chester Playhouse)

A longtime fixture for the arts community in the seaside Nova Scotia village of Chester is expected to reopen by spring of 2023, about two years after it was heavily damaged in a fire just weeks before the completion of a major refurbishment.

Andrew Chandler, executive director of the Chester Playhouse, said Thursday having the 80-year-old building meet current fire requirements proved impossible, so fire consulting firm RJ Bartlett Engineering Ltd. was hired to develop an alternative compliance plan.

The plan incorporates a number of measures to make the building as safe as possible and meet codes, including the addition of a fire curtain on the stage. 

"In the event that there was a fire on stage ... the construction is such that the other two sections of the building would be sealed off with a two-hour fire rating, giving folks plenty of time to escape the building and for fire crews to arrive and extinguish the fire," Chandler told CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax.

The fire broke out June 11, 2021, and briefly spread to a neighbouring building before being contained. At the time, fire officials said the fire itself appeared confined to the attic, although there was water damage throughout. There were no injuries.

Chandler said Thursday the cause of the fire was never determined.

At the time of the fire, the playhouse was undergoing renovations that began in September 2020 to make the building more accessible and able to operate all year. The federal and provincial governments spent almost $800,000 on the work, with another $500,000 or so from private donations.

The building was fully insured at the time of the fire, said Chandler. However, he said more money was needed to cover the extra measures being taken with this rebuild.

This week, the municipality and the province said they would each contribute $200,000 toward the theatre's rebuild.

Allen Webber, the warden of the Municipality of Chester, said he has been going to the playhouse since he was 15 years old. Now 65, Webber said the playhouse continues to be an "extremely important" part of the community.

Andrew Chandler is the executive director of the Chester Playhouse. (MJ Photographics)

When the theatre eventually reopens, Chandler said it shouldn't be noticeably different from the outside. The inside will feature upgrades that were part of the original refurbishment plan.

"It won't be quite the same playhouse, but we're seizing the opportunity with this extensive rebuild to improve on things that we couldn't in the initial project and make it a safer, more accessible, better functional space so we can last for the next 80 years," said Chandler.

With files from Information Morning Halifax


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