Rockingham Selectboard supports Opera House proposal

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the Rockingham Selectboard discussed the Bellows Falls Opera House and the Rockingham Recycling Center.

Interim Manager Chuck Wise said Josh Kemp is serving as interim recycling manager and acknowledged Rob Wheeler and Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis’s efforts in helping Kemp. Wise explained that the scale had calibration issues and Kemp scheduled a complete upgrade, which will cost $2,092. Discussion was held on operations and everyone agreed more volunteers were needed. Rockingham Recycling Center hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

Chair Gaetano Putignano commended Kemp. “It seems like a lot of progress has been made.”

Charlie Hunter read part of his proposal to shift the Bellows Falls Opera House from municipality run to a nonprofit operation. Hunter explained, “Small town single screen movie theatres [are] in danger”… and offered his “nimble model” for success.

With volunteer board members Sean Long and Marty Gallagher, Hunter is joined by the “movie brain trust” including Josh Mosher, Jennifer Tolero-Heidbrink, Tim Heidbrink, Shawn Douglass, Sean Roberts, and Ella Cademartori. The proposal keeps family-friendly first run movies, the classic film series, and iconic triple-up. Adding two to three theatrical productions and live performances, Hunter projected revenues based on 2019 numbers, bringing the BFOH from red to black in two years.

Movie prices would rise a dollar, and plans for classic film matinees and cashless ticket sales as well as capital improvements are proposed. Staff members who have worked at the Opera House from 7 to 17 years supported the plan.

Heidrink thought Hunter’s plan could offer more to the town and highlighted live shows like “The Logger” that sold out two nights in a row. Jennifer wanted to thank loyal customers and staff for dedicating their time during the curbside Triple-Up sales.

She said Covid-19 “has forced opportunity upon us” and the Opera House is “the cornerstone of our community…a place where you can laugh and cry…a real place where everyone knows your name.”

Moser would like to see more concerts and plays. Cademartori said, “This vibrant staff here has become my family.”

Putignano said, “I can feel the passion and dedication” of this staff and supported the plan. He said the biggest concern was to keep affordable pricing and the triple-up. Even with the price increase “a family of four to attend the movies is [still] under $50, including a soft drink, large popcorn, and candy.”

Peter Golec asked if town funds were financing the nonprofit’s plan. Finance Director Shannon Burbela explained that current Rockingham expenses for the BFOH were heat, electricity, and about five hours per week for one staff member, but “once the nonprofit takes over our budget would not have revenue or expenses.”

Susan Hammond mentioned that as a nonprofit model, the BFOH would be eligible for grants and said, “I am very supportive of the idea.”

Stefan Golec supported the idea but wanted to make sure the town and village had a place for meetings. Hunter agreed the municipality would still have free access.

Wise explained the next step was developing a lease agreement to “transfer some authority to a nonprofit model.” The Selectboard gave consent to move forward in exploring Hunter’s proposal, but agreed more information and communication was necessary.

Hunter has scheduled open Zoom meetings for community members to express questions, concerns, and ideas for the future of the BFOH, which will be posted to Bellows Falls Facebook pages and the town’s website,

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