Fears theatre could be sold off

THERE are fears the beautiful Ardhowen site could be sold off by the Council to a private developer and the theatre moved elsewhere, it has been revealed.
The Herald has learned a small, unpublicised meeting was held between an officer of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and frequent users of the theatre on August 22nd. At that meeting it was stated the theatre’s roof was leaking and the building was in need of repair.
Those who attended the meeting said they were told the much-loved building may need to be closed for a year to make these repairs, and five options were given for its future.
The first was to do nothing, the second was to refurbish the building, the third was refurbishment with an extension, and the fourth was a new building on the same site. The fifth suggestion by the Council officer was to build a new theatre on a new site. A cost of £2.1 million was reportedly mentioned.
“Option five would mean the sale of the Ardhowen and grounds and the purchase of a new site,” said one concerned attendee.
“Despite the assurance that the theatre would not be closed, the fact it was there as one of the options was frightening.”
They added: “The Ardhowen Theatre is the jewel in the crown of Enniskillen and Fermanagh, and is so important for the entire community.”
Architect Richard Pierce was also among those who attended the meeting. He said he got the feeling the faults reported were “exaggerated” and “a red herring.”
For example, he said aside from the roof, which he said could be repaired or replaced, other reasons cited included a poor disabled access, congested traffic after events, as well as the glass wall, which opens up the beautiful view, letting in too much heat in summer and letting out heat in winter.
“As long as the arts are catered for I don’t mind, but there are two things I’m afraid of,” said Mr Pierce.
“Number one, the Ardhowen Theatre is a very important building in its own right, and much loved. The other thing is, I think the advantage of a beautiful lakeside site should, in socialist terms, belong to all of the people and not to some money making developer.”
A spokesman for the Council said the meeting had been arranged to seek the views of theatre users and consider options for going forward.
“Given that the Ardhowen Theatre has significant structural deficiencies which need addressed the Council is currently looking to identify various options for the theatre,” they said.
“Under government guidelines the Council, as a public body, is duty bound to explore all options in the preparation of an economic appraisal.”
The spokesman stressed the Council had “no intention to remove theatre provision in the Fermanagh area.”

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