Community 'hurting' after Chester Playhouse fire, says executive director

·2 min read
Firefighters had the fire at the Chester Playhouse under control by 5:30 p.m. Friday. (CBC - image credit)
Firefighters had the fire at the Chester Playhouse under control by 5:30 p.m. Friday. (CBC - image credit)

The executive director of the Chester Playhouse says the community is reeling from a fire at the historic building.

Andrew Chandler said investigations and damage assessments after Friday's fire are just in the beginning stages.

Chandler, who became executive director in March, said he was in a state of "total shock and panic" when he heard about the fire.

He said he immediately drove to the area and stood on the sidewalk with the rest of the onlookers to watch the playhouse burning.

He said he's grateful that no one was injured in the blaze and praised firefighters who were able to extinguish the fire and prevent damage to surrounding buildings.

'Devastating for everybody'

He said it is difficult to look at the building in its current state.

"Seeing it now, it's obviously devastating for everybody here in the community," Chandler said.

"This was coming to the tail end of a big restoration project that had been going on since last fall. We were sort of in the final weeks."

MJ Photographics
MJ Photographics

That restoration involved structural work to the building built in 1938.

There was a new facade as well as improvements for performers and patrons. The facade had already been completed before the fire, according to Chandler.

Chandler said work on the building cost more than $1 million. Some came from public sources but at least $500,000 came from 150 private donations.

"It's been a community project all along," he said. "So a lot of folks had stakes ... in this new restoration project."

According to Chandler, members of the community are "dismayed, shocked and hurting" because of what happened.

He said at this stage he's letting the investigators do their job before moving on to the next steps.

Outdoor performances likely

There will be no productions at the theatre this summer, but there could be performances at other indoor venues.

Chandler said two of the events for the upcoming season were outdoor events and he anticipates those will proceed.

"We're eager and quite enthusiastic about bringing arts and culture and live performance back," he said. "That is our goal and that's what we're working towards."

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