Snow Hill Makes Case For Opera House Funds

SNOW HILL — Representatives of the Snow Hill community reinforced their need for Worcester County support this week in revitalizing the Old Mason’s Opera House, which has been re-christened the Arts and Education Center in Snow Hill.

The building has fallen on hard times, according to Mayor Charlie Dorman, and has sparked several community meetings and lots of brainstorming. The roof especially is in bad shape and the town is looking to the county this year for $200,000 to “stabilize” the structure.

“We have taken ownership of the old Opera House building located at the corner of North Washington Street and West Market Street,” wrote Dorman in a letter to the commission. “This building has begun to deteriorate over the years and being in the center of town, as well as across the street from your governmental center, we feel it is prudent to rehabilitate this structure to encourage tourism and economic revitalization.”

Dorman met with the commissioners earlier this spring to discuss general town maintenance, which included the opera house. However, he used this second meeting to drive home the reasons why the building is worth funding.

Resident Gary King, who serves as chair for the community group dedicated to renovating the building, told the commission Tuesday that the theatre serves as a lynchpin in Snow Hill and has a number of practical applications.

“We see its central location as an opportunity to be able to work cooperatively with the efforts of the existing organizations to promote healthy families and a healthy community in the area of art, civic education, and religious areas,” he said.

Potential uses of the center were blocked into three different categories: art, political and community interest and historic interest.

In the field of art, the group envisions the center hosting theatre events, poetry readings, brown box theatre, dinner theatre, and national public radio programs. On the political and community side, there would be town meetings, community forums and informational sessions, while historic interests would focus on things like tourism, town artifacts and museum and historic artifacts.

There are also talks of using the space for education outreach with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) as well as peer tutoring, life skills education and healthy eating education.

 “It’s certainly an issue in Snow Hill and it’s a concern to all of us,” said Wendy Myers. “Every day I see it raining I think about the rain dripping into that beautiful building.”

Historical preservation plays a big part in the interest of the Snow Hill community to protect the theatre and breathe new life into it as the Arts and Education Center, she added.

“What it really came down to was protecting our heritage here in Snow Hill and then of course strengthening families and strengthening our community,” she said.

Should the county give the center $200,000 in initial financial support to stabilize the roof, Commissioner Jim Bunting wondered if enough funding would then be available to maintain the building and its programs for years especially if those programs are offered free of charge.

The plan is to offer programs at the center at no charge, confirmed Dorman, but the mayor assured Bunting that considerations have been made for long-term funding through Community Federal Block, Historic Preservation and Save America’s Treasures grants. The Maryland Historical Trust might also be a source of continued funding while donations from the community are expected, according to Dorman.

Including the $200,000 to stabilize the Arts and Education Center in Snow Hill, the town is requesting $500,000 in other funding putting its total grant request at $700,000 compared to last year’s $400,000.