Earlier this year, plans were submitted to help restore Jersey’s much loved Opera House. The government announced it would provide £11.5m in allocated funding to restore the building with plans to include a full restoration of the Grade II listed building, adding a “modern glazed structure alongside the historic façade”. Beyond this snippet of information, little else is known about the development, not least how the work is progressing. We caught up with the interim General Manager, Phill Hogben to find out what is actually going on behind the historic facade and what the public can expect to see when the doors finally reopen.
Everyone wants to know, what is happening in the opera house at the moment?
The latest update is that planning permission is with the Government planning department and will be concluded in the near future. Once this is granted, the next step will be to submit the plans for bylaw permissions as well as starting the tendering process for the completion of the works. Unfortunately we do not have a time scale yet from the architects, but planning permission progress can be checked on Gov.je here
Can you tell us about the restoration- what’s happened so far and what can we look forward to seeing when you reopen?
A lot of the work so far has been preparation work; planning and understanding the scale of the project we are undertaking. Since the original 2019 conditional survey report there has been further deterioration of the building so this has to be factored into our most recent plans. The auditorium is where our customers will notice the main difference. All the seating and the carpets are going to be removed – with new carpeting to replace the old throughout the whole building and any old seating will be refurbished and reupholstered.
Most of the works are centered around health and safety, heating, air conditioning and roof repairs. Our patrons might not see a massive change aesthetically, but they should feel a whole lot warmer and cooler (in the summer) with greatly improved air handling systems. And with the upgrading of the fire protection, the building will be much safer. We are also implementing, where practical, details in a disability accessibility report, which will look at improving access to the building for wheelchair users and providing increased mobility when moving around the theatre.
Wherever possible a carbon neutral consideration approach where “plant” and appliances are being changed will be a large and important part of the contractor’s remit. Outside the project scope of works, the JOH board has approved additional decoration of backstage areas and other safety works that were outside the conditional survey.
What will be different from before?
In addition to having greater disabled accessibility and a decorated auditorium with refurbished seating, there will be an improved façade at the box office entrance, more exhibition space internally as well as a refurbished café and studio.
What work is there still to be done?
Most of the works revolve around making the theatre safe, watertight, and functional. The technical infrastructure will need major investment; the majority of the backstage equipment is over 20 years old and there is now far better and more efficient lighting and sound equipment available. We will be looking for help from the Government and also pursuing corporate sponsors and private donors to fund this. Hopefully we can find some kind and generous companies and individuals to support the Arts infrastructure of the Island. Our improvements will mean we can support more activities here at JOH and in the wider community.
What were the biggest issues with the old building, and how have these been addressed in the new building?
It is a very old building with great historic significance, but despite this the current building must adhere to today’s fire legislation and modern guidelines. Some access points will have to change as a result of that. Matching the heritage and style of the building to the requirements of these modern guidelines is difficult and costly. More issues will come to light as the building works get properly started and as we start “lifting up the carpets”, we do not know what we will find.
So, when are you reopening?
Currently the scheduled reopening date is end of Q4 2024, but as soon as the works start then a completing date will become clearer. In the meantime we are in communication with the government who are thinking of creating an Instagram or Facebook page designated for the refurbishment program, and we at the JOH will be pushing our offsite activities and interesting developments through similar media. So keep a look out for that.