WELLSBORO - The long anticipated opening of the Deane Center for the Performing Arts has arrived.
The first group to use the new center was the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theatres, a group with members from all over the state who chose the center to present their annual festival of plays, which began Friday and ends today.
Recently, a week of open houses at the center were held for donors culminated with a four-hour event for the general public and entertainment by the local musical duo Sadie Green Sales.
The open house week featured a tour of the 13 room facility, including the "Black Box" theater, which can seat up to 155 people and rises two stories at the back of what was the former Davis Furniture building.
The opening of the $4.7 million Phase I of the $13 million project comes 10 years after the death of benefactor Ivah Deane, who bequeathed $1 million to establish her dream of a regional performing arts center in her husband's hometown.
Wellsboro attorney and president of the center's board of trustees, Lowell Coolidge and Deane's niece, Carla Junquist, were the executors appointed to nudge the dream along.
Now, after a decade of work by contractors and volunteers alike, and millions of dollars, it has been accomplished, Coolidge said.
"Ivah was born in 1905 in Mansfield, and went to school there until she went to work at the Green Free Library, where she met her future husband Harold," Coolidge said.
After marrying, the couple moved to Rochester, N.Y., but returned home to retire in Wellsboro some years later.
Though Harold died in 1999, before his death, he saw the good that the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center, a gift to the borough from his cousin Arthur Gmeiner, had done for the community, and wanted to see that project built upon.
"He saw this project as an extension of the Gmeiner," Coolidge said.
The project began with a feasibility study conducted by Ivy Partners, of Ithaca, N.Y., to gauge the community's interest and support of such a project.
"The results were very positive," according to Coolidge.
The next challenge, finding property, was solved when the Davis Furniture Store building at 104 Main St. became available following owner Beach Davis' death.
The 15-member committee that took on the task incorporated itself in 2006, becoming a non profit organization, and began working in to raise the funds needed to complete the Deane's dream.
Finally, work on the facade of the building began in 2010, with a grant from the state Historic Commission.
With donations from the community, the interior renovation and reconstruction followed.
Coolidge credited each member of the committee, which met monthly, with their dedication to the project and rarely an absence recorded by any of them.
He mentioned two members in particular who passed away before they could see the project completed - George Williams, in 2005 at the age of 91, and Robert Cox Sr., in 2011, at the age of 97.
"George Williams never missed a meeting and Bob Cox was so enthusiastic," he said. "It is too bad they can't be here to celebrate with us this weekend," he added.
Coolidge also thanked the community for "pulling together" to bring the center to fruition, complete with a new executive director, Lisa Meade, a Wellsboro native who returned after working several years in Harrisburg for the Rendell administration.
Davis Furniture's long time employee Pat Waterman rounds out the staff as chief operating officer and manager, Coolidge said.
In Phase II, a new L-shaped building will include a 450 seat theatre, more retail space and second floor community room space.
No construction date for Phase II has been announced.
Other upcoming events lined up to use the new venue include the Laurel Festival Queen's Preview and Concert and the Endless Mountain Music Festival.
For more information about the Deane Center, visit their website at www.deanecenter.com, or telephone them at 724-6220.