THE £8 million refurbishment of the Ardhowen Theatre took a step forward last week, with the Council appointing a design team for the major project.
Led by the award-winning Hall McKnight Architects – which have worked on numerous large projects across the world and covering a wide variety of buildings including heritage and cultural projects – the collaborative team will now be taking forward the plans to bring the almost 40-year-old theatre into the 21st century, while retaining its historic character.
The grade B+ listed building on the banks of the Erne began life as a traditional Edwardian villa and was originally built for local draper Charles McDonagh. Ardhowen House, as it was previously known, was then bought by the local Council for £9,000 following Mr McDonagh’s death in 1958, and converted into offices.
Designed by renowned architect Tom Mullarkey, the building was extended to include an auditorium and was opened as the Ardhowen Theatre in 1986. Last year it was officially designated a historic building.
A centre for the local arts, the Ardhowen is much-loved locally, and respected in architectural circles, however the building needs a number of upgrades to make it fit for modern use, such improving disability access, replacing old electrical wiring, and fixing its leaky roof.
There was much fear back in 2018 when the Council first proposed how to deal with its issues. At the time, the Council put forward five options for its future, including the option to knock it down and build a new theatre, or to build a new theatre elsewhere in the town, which could have seen it being sold off.
Following much public outrage at the threat of it being knocked down or sold. However, after vowing to work with local stakeholders, the Council confirmed in 2020 it would be investing £8 million in an extensive revamp of the iconic building.
When announcing the appointment of the design team last week, the Council said the refurbishment aimed to “enhance the visitor experience, improve accessibility and inclusivity, provide new opportunities for artists and audiences, ensure the facility meets the future needs of the local community, and create a more environmentally sustainable venue.”
Council chairman Cllr Barry McElduff said he was “delighted” the design team had been appointed and looked forward to work beginning.
“The Ardhowen is a major hub for the arts throughout County Fermanagh, the wider Council area, and beyond. It provides a space for the local community and visitors to access and enjoy quality arts and cultural experiences,” he said, adding it refurbishment would “enhance the opportunities to enjoy the arts today and in the future.”
Ian McKnight from Hall McKnight said his team were looking forward to working with the local community on the project.
“The Ardhowen is a true original and is one of the very few listed buildings from the 1980s, so we are delighted to have been appointed, along with our full design team, and hope to deliver a project that allows the Ardhowen to continue its important role in the civic, social and cultural life of the town and region for years to come,” he said.
It is expected the design process will be completed by March 2023.
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