Water damage to the ceiling at AC4TA.

Johanna Armstrong | Daily Journal

Straight up: Water damage to the ceiling at A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls. Executive director Michael Burgraff will look to help raise funds for the repairs with a “Raise the Roof” campaign.

The building at 124 W. Lincoln Ave., in downtown Fergus Falls was built in 1921 as the Orpheum Theater and while today it carries the marquee for A Center for the Arts, lots of changes occurred between 1921 and 2019: The Orpheum went from stage theater to a mix of stage and movie showings, before showing only movies starting in 1952. In the early 1980s, The Old Tyme Variety Players began to lease the theater from owner Gordon Bakken before accepting it as a gift, returning it to a strictly stage theater.

While the performances inside the building have changed, as have the seats and paint, the dressing rooms and the stage, the outside has lagged behind and mother nature has begun to creep into the second floor offices of AC4TA with severe leakage as a result of roofing pushed far past its life expectancy. “It rains in the offices when it rains outside and the snowmelt has filled garbage can after garbage can of water,” says Michael Burgraff, executive director for AC4TA, who is kicking off a Raise the Roof campaign to help raise money for repairs.

The rubber membrane roof has a slope for drainage and because it was done in the late 1980s or early 90s during a renovation, was laid over an older roof, it must be pulled off and replaced. Several contractors were brought in to look at the issues and put in a bid and Buttweiler’s Do-All Inc. was awarded the bid with a projected repair cost of $100,000. Thankfully, members of the Veden Foundation recently toured the facility and recognized AC4TA’s needs and pledged $50,000, allowing the nonprofit group to cover the most needed part of this repair, but they need to raise the other $50,000 quickly, “Or else we are in great peril of losing this building,” says Burgraff.

“If we don’t fix the roof, worst case scenario is that it becomes so waterlogged and/or damaged that we’re not allowed to have people in until it’s repaired,” he says. The building was built at a time when wood was the primary construction material, and continued water damage threatens the integrity of their wooden rafters which could lead to dangerous conditions forcing closure if not an outright roof collapse — $100,000 now could save them $1 million in repairs in the future.

“The city has virtually nothing to do with this building, it is owned by A Center for the Arts Inc., a nonprofit organization, and therefore all maintenance, repairs, utilities, upkeep fall to our organization,” says Burgraff. Most similar nonprofit theaters in Minnesota are owned by their cities or school districts, who then cover those costs. “We spend about $120,000 a year just on maintenance and utilities,” he says. AC4TA is also still paying off a $140,000 HVAC repair from a few years ago, which the Veden Foundation also helped with.

“Anything that people can give is appreciated, but $20 probably won’t get us to that other $50,000 in time. We will need to go out and see if we can’t come up with thousands of dollars at a time,” says Burgraff, who hopes to get the money raised before the snow begins to fall and causes additional damage.

It doesn’t help that many nonprofits created budgets expecting to receive about as much funding as in years past, but the new tax code, which eliminated deductions for charitable giving, severely cut down on expected sources of donations. “We’re having to go out to our patrons in the community and say, ‘Because of a decline in sponsorships, because of a decline in memberships, because of a decline in charitable giving, we need to raise additional money just to do our programming and keep the doors open,’ let alone adding this $100,000, now we’re asking people twice, ‘Can you step up and get us through this year?’” says Burgraff.

Budgeting for next year will take into account the new lack of funds, but the effect this year is being felt by nonprofits throughout the country and the roof issues are a double whammy for AC4TA. Community members looking to help can send checks to AC4TA with “The roof campaign” in the memo line.

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