Scranton Cultural Center Makes Repairs, Eyes More
SCRANTON — An emergency repair project at the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple did more than temporarily button up the building’s leaky masonry exterior.
It also bought the historic landmark some time — three to five years by Executive Director Deborah Moran Peterson’s reckoning — to work on a more enduring solution.
“To prevent further erosion of the building, it needed to happen,” Peterson said of the $180,000 project to replace missing and damaged mortar in the joints between the limestone blocks on the building’s exterior facade.
“Of course, the overall thing that needs to happen is the repair of the roof.”
Completed in October and paid for with a Local Share Account grant funded by the state assessment on casino slots revenue, the emergency masonry project was a stopgap measure aimed at halting the infiltration of water through the walls and into the building’s interior.
With the walls secure for at least the immediate future, cultural center officials are actively working on securing $10 million in state funding for a complete overhaul of the building’s exterior.
That would include not only a full renovation of the limestone walls but also replacement of the roof and the gutter system, which business manager Jason Helman identified as the primary culprit in the water infiltration issue.
State Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, who has been an advocate for the center in Harrisburg, said he met in September with state Department of General Services secretary Curt Topper and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Executive Director Andrea Lowery about the project.
A capital budget signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017 allocated $10 million to the PHMC, which Blake pointed out actually holds the title on the cultural center property, for the building’s renovation.
However, while the commission has a lawful authorization to do the work, it will not have the funding to commit to the project until it wraps up some other capital commitments, Blake said.
“What I know for sure is PHMC and DGS are committed to getting $10 million for the cultural center, and I believe it will happen. The problem is it probably is going to take longer than we would prefer,” Blake said, adding it could be up to three years before the project sees movement.
The most noticeable damage from the water infiltration has been in the center’s main theater, where the balcony walls are scarred by loose plaster and peeling paint. It’s an aesthetic issue center officials say really can’t be addressed until the bigger project is done and underlying cause eliminated.
“People say, ‘Well, why don’t you slap some paint on that?’ We have to fix the main problem first,” Peterson said.
Other renovation projects have been taking place at the center, although it’s not the kind of work likely to wow visitors.
“A lot of it is internal to the building, so people aren’t really going to notice those things,” Peterson said. “But they are certainly important to the ongoing restoration.”
The center in recent months completed a $90,000 renovation of its catering kitchen, including new appliances, to make it more efficient and “enhance our capacity for bringing in more business and generating revenue,” she said. It was the first upgrade to the kitchen in about a decade.
In a project expected to cost around $53,000, the center is the process of refurbishing the external exit doors on the main theater. The 15 doors, which date to the building’s original construction in the late 1920s, were in need of some safety repairs and energy-efficiency upgrades, Peterson said.
Another needed project center officials have their eye on is an overhaul of the building’s two nearly 90-year-old passenger elevators. In October, the center applied through Scranton for a $345,405 state gaming grant to repair and modernize the elevators.
In the meantime, the center launched its annual campaign last month with the goal, Peterson said, of raising at least $50,000 for regular care and maintenance of the building.
“When we say in the fundraiser that it goes to the restoration of the building, we want people to know that’s actually where it’s going,” she said.
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