Members of the King Opera House Board are still breathing sighs of relief after a spark started a fire on the second floor of the front of the building. It could have been disastrous. Instead there was some damage to new insulation, a bit of water on the first and second floor and some smoke damage that will need to be addressed.

But the venerated 116-year-old opera house/movie theater has weathered COVID-19 well, mostly because the board had planned to shut down a period of time for Phase I restoration of the building.

“We were still running movies in March and eyeing a May or June closing for construction,” said King Opera House President Dave Paxton. “We lost a couple of months of movie revenues and had to deal with some really disappointed seniors who were cast in the spring musical, but it really worked out pretty well.”

COVID-19 did, in fact, bring restoration to a grinding halt mid-summer. “The entire construction industry was affected by back orders and companies rearranging their schedules,” said Paxton. “Our project was supposed to have started the first week of July and really didn’t get going until late fall.”

Before the fire, Christner Construction based in Ottumwa was looking at a completion date of sometime mid to late May. That may still be a possibility.

Other than weekend movies, what does that mean?

Well, another group of ACHS seniors have missed performing in the theater for a fall musical and a spring production (which is actually last year’s musical put on hold). Typically, the theater sponsors an event for the Victorian Stroll. The first week of March, the Albia Junior High put on their plays at the high school. “We really missed being in the theater,” said Director Christina Estes.

Something beloved by the community, the Bob Reed Country Music Showcase has been postponed until the theater reopens.

“We’re ready to go the minute the theater reopens,” said Director Cindy Rhodes.

Paxton added, “We’re actually looking at having the Bob Reed show as part of our grand reopening.”

The popular Fineline Bluegrass show from last October was cancelled and it’s a wait and see as COVID-19 slowly disappears. Typically, the theater hosts a fall concert and a spring concert.

The big, big live event is the Restoration Days Follies, which went on hiatus because of COVID-19. Last August, the state clamped down on any indoor gathering of over 50 people and with the theater closed anyway, Restoration Days organizers decided to give the vaudeville show a rest for the first time since 1984.

“The great thing about serving on the King Opera House board is that it is made up of really committed people,” said Paxton. “There were a couple of months we didn’t meet because there just wasn’t anything to talk about, but since the first of the year we’ve been really busy, planning for the reopening.”

Those plans include designing the new concession stand, planning a massive volunteer clean-up of the auditorium and stage area, planning some sort of sale to move no longer needed equipment and preparing for the restart of movies and live performances.

Watch the theater’s Facebook page, the Albia Newspaper and KIIC Radio for information on the grand re-opening.