Historic Sandwich Opera House facing more than $3 million in repairs

The Sandwich City Council will have some decisions to make after reviewing a report showing that it could cost up to $3.15 million to repair the historic Sandwich Opera House.

Lon Gorsch of Belvidere-based Renaissance Historic Exteriors outlined the work that needs to be done during a presentation to City Council members Feb. 5.

The Grecian-style Sandwich Opera House was built for $12,000 in 1878 by Enos Doan.

Renaissance Historic Exteriors has experience in the restoration of historic buildings. The building was renovated in 1895 and again from 1984 to 1986 after years of neglect. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Because the building’s exterior masonry was restored in 2021, the primary focus of the evaluation was the building’s roof and gutter systems. He said part of the roof needs to be replaced, as well as the gutters.

Part of the roof on the historic Sandwich Opera House needs to be replaced.

“The asbestos fiber slate roof system on the steep-slope portion of the roof is in poor condition,” Gorsch said in the report. “It is difficult to determine the age of the roof, but a photo that looks to be taken as early as 1960 suggests this roof has been in place at least that long.

“It is not uncommon for these roofs to last 75 years. The existing condition and existence of several repairs indicate the roof is at the end of its service life.”

In addition, he said, the built-in gutters on the main/original building are in poor condition.

“The gutters on the west side of the building are too corroded to tell if they were galvanized steel or not. Zinc galvanizing has eroded/corroded away,” Gorsch said. “The gutters on the east and north side are covered with various types of coating and patching materials. The gutters on the west side of the building have been paid less attention to, presumably because they are not over sidewalks, in areas where leaks are easily observed.”

The $3.15 million repair estimate would include the installation of new copper gutters.

The performing arts theater hosts shows throughout the year, and the building also houses city offices.

Sandwich City Administrator Geoff Penman said the city will weigh its options.

“A big portion of the cost is in the gutters,” he said. “The gutters are all custom made. They need to be reformed and everything. And the best material for that is copper.

“We want to look at some other options. We want to exhaust all options before just accepting a dollar amount.”

Penman said the city also will need to make sure it is complying with the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places.

“This is kind of a preliminary stage to see what kind of condition the building is in, what we can do in the short term and what we can do in the long term,” he said. “We can’t ignore that there’s problems. It’s just how we fix them. It’s better to know what you are dealing with than just guess. That’s the reason we wanted to do the assessment to try and figure that out.”

Penman said the last time any extensive renovation work was done on the Sandwich Opera House was in the 1980s, when volunteers raised money to restore and renovate the building.

“It was a grassroots effort,” he said. “It was a group of people that really cared about the community and wanted to bring the thing back, and they did a wonderful job.

“Unfortunately, things don’t last forever, and things reach the end of their useful life. I think that’s the tricky part and that’s what we’ve got to really look at.”