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Architects: Sterling Renovation Won’t Break The Bank

by Eugene Driscoll | Sep 21, 2011 7:36 am

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Posted to: Derby


Beautiful. Simple. Relatively affordable.

Those were the themes Tuesday during a gathering at Derby City Hall where the husband and wife architectural team of Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample unveiled their vision for an interior renovation of the Sterling Opera House on Main Street.

They estimate the renovation will cost about $3 million to $4 million. Mayor Anthony Staffieri said the city will raise the money through grants from the state and charitable foundations.

The money won’t come from taxpayers, officials said.

“It’s doable,” Staffieri said. “This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. This is the beginning of the true beginning of the theater.”

Meredith and Sample — of MOS in New Haven — spent months researching the history of the city’s historic building. While Sterling is called an opera house, it historically had many different uses.

“It existed beyond just a pure theater,” Meredith said.

Their design calls for flexibility.

The Sterling Opera House would seat 400 people. There would be bench-type seating on two balcony levels, with chairs on the stage level. Those chairs would be removable so that the types of events at Sterling would not be limited to musical performances.

Lectures, even wedding receptions, are possible the architects said.

The interior renovation calls for elevators and fire-code compliant stairs to be built behind the stage area of the Opera House. That’s the “non-historic” portion of the building. The seating side of the opera house would be cleaned up, made safe — but still remain recognizable.

Photo: Eugene DriscollThe renovated Sterling would resemble Sprague Memorial Hall at Yale University — a space similar to Sterling.

The main entrance to the theater would be moved to the side, where there is an alley with ample space. Patrons would enter into a lobby area that will include display cases, a box office and a coat check room.

Patrons will be able to look through a glass wall as they pass the rear of the stage on their way to their seats. It’s as if the public are actors arriving for a performance, the architects said.

The plans also call for two public meeting rooms, along with office space.

The goal is to make the Sterling Opera House the focal point for Derby — and provide a natural flow of pedestrian traffic from Olivia Street to the Derby Green.

“It is central to the town. It is part of the town’s identity,” Meredith said.

Another goal — keep the renovation affordable.

Example — the building will not have a sprinkler system, the architects said, because the number of seats does not trigger the requirement.

The plans do not call for an expansion of the opera house. That would cause costs to rise considerably, they said.

“We knew that the budget was modest, in a certain sense,” Meredith said.

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