Apple Alley member asks commission to take another look at amphitheater
KEYSER - The announcement last week that the Larenim Park Amphitheater could possibly be torn down caught the attention of many county residents, including three long-time members of the theater group that considered the theater home since 1984.
Three representatives of Apple Alley Players urged the Mineral County Commissioners Tuesday to explore all possibilities before they make the final decision to raze the amphitheater, which was built through a joint effort of the theater group and the county.
The theater, built in the early 1980s and considered home to numerous Apple Alley productions over the years, has fallen in disrepair. The commissioners told the three AAP members Tuesday, however, that no official decision has been made regarding the future of the structure.
This announcement came less than a week after the News Tribune broke the story that the county was seeking estimates on the cost of razing the amphitheater, which has not been used by anyone since 2017.
The story pointed out rotting floorboards, accumulated trash, abandoned and deteriorating set pieces, and a spongy stage floor, in addition to bushes and trees which have grown up throughout the area.
Apple Alley member Bob Schadler said he and fellow member Dave Harman had visited the theater Sunday, and he feels the responsibility for the poor shape of the theater falls on several entities.
He also feels, however, it’s not as bad as the article described.
“It said the place was rotting. Well it’s not,” he said. “The upright walls are still stable. They’re structurally sound as far as I can tell. The floor has issues. There are some loose boards and one place in the left backstage looks like someone has broken some of the boards.
“These boards can easily be replaced,” he added.
“Another thing the article mentioned was at the bottom of the steps there was some trash … Yes, it’s there, but Apple Alley didn’t do it. You’ve probably got some vandals going in there and doing stuff like that,” he said.
“The third thing that was mentioned in the paper was a curtain on the stage that was flapping in the wind. Apple Alley is responsible for that,” he said. “That’s part of the set of the last show we did over there and it was never disassembled.
“It’s our fault. … that should have been taken down, disassembled and the wood either trashed or stored for another production.”
Schadler also mentioned the trash, or “odd pieces of stuff,” lying about backstage which also “never got cleaned up from our last show. So we’re responsible for that as well,” he said.
“Mother Nature, however, is responsible for the condition of the flooring. It’s been out there a long time,” Schadler said, noting that he, Larry Myers and other volunteers, along with then-Parks and Recreation director Rex Riffle, had at one time replaced the floor boards in the wings themselves.
Schadler told the commissioners he would therefore encourage the county to take a look at repairing the structure as opposed to tearing it down, and then to work on expanding its usage for other plays, programs, concerts, etc.
As for the brush and bushes over growing the theater, Schadler put the responsibility for that in the county’s hands.
“In my opinion, that’s the responsibility of Parks and Recreation to take care of that,” he said. “Even when we’re not having a show out there, they should still be responsible for the maintenance.
“Apple Alley has the theater a maximum of 30 days a year; you all have it the rest of the time. So I think you would want to take care of your property and make it presentable to the public and make it usable for the public,” he said.
And while Schadler did commend Parks and Recreation for their upkeep on the grassy areas at the park, director Kevin Simon told the News Tribune last week that he had not taken the time to cut and trim the brush and weeds since the theater was not in use.
County commissioner Roger Leatherman, who also serves on the Parks and Recreation Committee, told Schadler Tuesday that they have not made any official decision on the future of the theater.
“We talked about this a couple of months ago. There’s a couple that wants to see it torn down because it’s so bad,” he admitted, adding that they have indeed sought out, and received, an estimate on the demolition.
“I can’t remember the exact amount,” he said, adding that they also talked about pulling the Trex boards on the main stage up and seeing if they could be reused and stabilized with the addition of more floor joists.
“But we also talked about taking it down and building a new one,” he said.
“We’re hoping to get a grant for that. If we get a grant, I think you’ll like what happens,” he said.
Leatherman also said, however, he wanted to make it clear that the county was not just going to tear the amphitheater down and not replace it.
“I don’t see that happening; it won’t happen on my vote,” he said. “If we do tear it down, there will be another structure built,” commissioner Jerry Whisner agreed, saying they had even talked about building a new theater “of concrete and steel to make it more durable, and put a roof on it.
“We’d like to see it utilized more,” he said.
Noting that the current structure was built with a lot of the labor and materials donated, Schadler told the commissioners he felt “you’re looking at a million dollars to build another stage with the amenities that one has. To build it as large as that one is, it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
He again urged the commissioners to take a closer look at the theater for the possibility of repairing it, noting that the structure has a lot of sentimental meaning for many.
“For those of us who have performed there, it’s like home to us,” he said.