The Missouri Theater has a history of hidden maintenance problems, and a significant roof leak risk is the latest to join the list of critical repairs.
The Parks, Recreation and Civic Facilities Department discovered the roof issue while working on new restrooms, which are funded by the Capital Improvement Program.
“We thought we were going to be able to do some patching and protect that part of the building,” Parks Director Chuck Kempf said. “As the city engineers started looking at it in more detail, they found out that it wasn’t going to be that easy, that there was more damage than they realized, and it was a much more complicated fix than what we had originally anticipated.”
Issues like this aren’t new for the Missouri Theater, which is the oldest building operated and occupied by the parks department. A construction project quickly turns into two or three, as city staff finds more problems than initially expected.
“You start removing the existing material, and then underneath you find problems that nobody could see,” Kempf said. “Then it just balloons. It seems like that happens a lot more frequently with older buildings and especially historical buildings.”
The latest example is the lengthy facade project back in 2017. The initial job was patching, painting and stone repairs. But as the outer layers were removed, the city found structural damage to the four towers. The starting cost was about $300,000 before ballooning to $800,000.
The Missouri Theater also requires another unique challenge — repairs can’t change the historical significance of the building.
“Trying to make sure that you recognize and respect the historical significance,” Kempf said. “The materials you use have to reflect that, the way you go about doing things have to reflect that.”
New lighting also was included in the CIP, but the installation can be done by parks department staff. Those savings will go toward the roof, which will cost about $170,000.
It’s hoped the repairs will be completed this fall. While the restroom work will likely be delayed, events at the theater can continue, as long as no other problems arise.
“It’s difficult, it’s challenging and it can be frustrating,” Kempf said. “It feels like every project grows.”