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Crest Theater seeing improvements
Focus now is HVAC and sound system
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The Great Bend City Council Monday night approved bids to remove the asbestos from the Crest Theater and for the installation of a new HVAC system. - photo by Dale Hogg
It has really become a community building in the past few years.
Great Bend Community Theater Board member Jerry Renk

The nearly 70-year-old Crest Theater is feeling its age. But, still a popular Great Bend venue, efforts are underway to update the historic city-owned former movie house.

Great Bend City Administrator Kendal Francis said ACM Removal out of Wichita has completed the asbestos inspection of the theater and he received the report Tuesday. Asbestos was found around some of the piping, which isn’t uncommon in older buildings.

Now that samples have been collected, the firm is working on the asbestos survey. Also, Francis said the city is gathering information of companies that can handled the asbestos remediation.

In the meantime, the city’s on-call engineering firm, Professional Engineering Consultants of Wichita, has received the asbestos report and is working on plans to replace the HVAC system. Francis said this should be done by the end of October and ready to go out for bid.

“There is still the financing portion,” Francis said. Original estimates for the project were in the $500,000-600,000 range.

At the end of last year, the city set aside $250,000. Of that, $24,000 went to PEC and another $750 was spent on a land survey (this was for the easement behind the theater where the new HVAC units will sit).

The Great Bend Community Theater Board, which leases the facility from the city, has been raising funds for the improvements as well, said GBCT Board member Jerry Renk. “This is a fairly major project, but we are confident we will get there.”

The heating and cooling are crucial to maintain the temperature and humidity and preserve the sensitive equipment. “If this doesn’t happen, the theater will continue to deteriorate and we may have to close it.”

And that would be a huge loss, he said, adding usage has grown as a site for concerts, weddings and other events. “It has really become a community building in the past few years.”

So far, by piecing together donations and grants, the GBCT group has replaced the seats, lighting and carpeting, and remodeled the bathrooms. In addition, there is new equipment to aid the hearing impaired, a new screen and a repainted stage.

With the sound system in process of being replaced, the HVAC is the next step, Renk said.

And, on behalf of the board, the city is applying for a Heritage Trust Fund grant through the Kansas State Historical Society that could help cover the HVAC work. This has to be finalized by Nov. 1.

With a maximum grant amount possible of $95,000 it would provide an 80-20 match. If this works out, the city already has the 20 percent matching funds.

The 100-Plus Who Care organization in Great Bend also awarded the GBCT funds to help bring a traveling acting troupe to town next summer. Pulling in local youth, they will stage a musical in 10 days.

In May 2017, the council authorized then Mayor Mike Allison to sign an engineering services agreement with PEC for a theater HVAC assessment in the amount of $2,500. 

There had been concerns for some time over the leaks to the air conditioning system. The city inspector was contacted when the heating system failed to work, and that system was also found to be in bad shape. 

An evaluation of the entire system would help determine what action is needed to repair or replace the system.

The system dates back to when the building was built in 1950. This study will determine if the current HVAC is salvageable or what the other options might be.

Commonwealth Theaters deeded the Crest to the city, but it sits on leased ground. The lease, which expires in 2046, calls for a $200-per-year payment.