Holly building costs not insurmountable

The opening of a restored Holly Theatre is still more than a year away, and getting from here to there won’t be as smooth as backers had hoped. Finding the money to complete the work was always a challenge, but that hurdle is getting taller.

Construction costs have soared since the project began, and Randy McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, now puts the total price tag at $10 million — more than double the original estimate.

That’s not the fault of those involved in the project. It’s a cold fact of life in the construction business these days.

When the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation purchased the Holly in 2011, the economy was just starting to emerge from the Great Recession, when housing prices plummeted and new construction came to a virtual standstill. Contractors and subcontractors, who depend on new construction to make a living, went out of business, many turning to other kinds of work.

When the economy began to revive and construction projects started to reappear, there weren’t enough contractors left to handle all the work, and the price of that work rose as a result. Building materials also increased in price as demand rose. McKay notes that lumber prices are up 50 percent, and the cost of electrical systems, heating and air conditioning are on the upswing as well.

Other large projects have felt the impact of rising prices. The Medford School District pushed its proposed career and technical education bond onto the May ballot in part because the projected cost of constructing new labs and classrooms went from $250 to $350 a square foot.

The good news for the Holly is that Jefferson Live! has enough money in the bank and has secured enough financing to start demolition work next month in preparation for remodeling. McKay still needs to raise $2 million over the next year and a half, while looking for ways to cut costs on some of the work.

Setbacks are not unusual in a project of this scope, and we think the restoration is well worth the effort that will be needed to see it through to completion. A performing arts venue that seats 1,000 people and can book major artists touring the West Coast will enrich Medford’s cultural landscape and benefit the entire Rogue Valley.

If you haven’t had a chance to tour the Holly, next Saturday, June 2, is your last opportunity before major construction work closes the building to the public. It’s well worth the time to see what was once an elegant theater and can be again, provided the community steps up to help finish the job.

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