In the community

Covid, heat combine to stymie renovation of Vale’s Rex Theater

Renovation work on the Rex Theater stalled after the Covid pandemic caused delays. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Renovation work on the historic Rex Theater is at a standstill because of the Covid pandemic and the extreme heat wave that hit the local area, according to a report filed by the owners with the state.

The husband and wife team of Mike McLaughlin and Sandijean Fuson of Vale own the theater and received a $90,000 grant last year from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to kick-start the renovation of the building.

As part of the grant requirements, Fuson and McLaughlin must submit a quarterly report to the state.

In the latest report dated June 30, Fuson wrote since the spring the duo faced “continued delays from Covid.”

“Malheur County’s low vaccine rate, family members contracting it and friends passing from it during the period, along with our county’s high Covid outbreaks, has warranted great caution in dealing with contractors and others on the physical work on this project,” Fuson wrote.

Planned improvements to the building include a new heating and air conditioning system, new furnace and repairs to the 107-year-old building.

An upgrade to the marquee is also planned. The total cost of the planned repairs is $111,991. According to the grant application, Fuson and McLaughlin will provide a $23,000 match for the grant.

McLaughlin and Fuson bought the theater, at 240 A Street, in 1989.

The biggest cost, according to the grant application, will be $22,992 to remove the building’s old coal furnace.

Fuson estimated in her June report that $65,041 will be spent within the next three months on a contractor to restore the marquee, as well as exterior painting.

Work on the heating and air conditioning system, though, is in limbo, Fuson reported.

“The bid was updated in March and recently we were informed it would need revision again,” wrote Fuson.

Fuson reported that finding a contractor, because of the recent heatwave, has proved to be a challenge.

“We are setting our sights on August-Sept., for installation,” Fuson wrote.

Covid, she wrote, also “impacted equipment availability and the supply chains. Hence, the estimate revisions are needed,” wrote Fuson.

Fuson also reported painting on the exterior of the building was delayed by the heat.

Fuson wrote they intend to “begin exterior painting of the front of the building during the first significant break in the relentless 100-plus degree weather.”

Fuson wrote the project is about 15% finished.

The Rex Theater opened in 1914 with 400 seats and a balcony. Since then, it has been owned by a series of families until Fuson and McLaughlin bought it.

The theater showed first-run movies until 2008 when digital projectors became standard. The cost of converting to digital proved to be too costly.

The theater continued to function as a place for community events but is open only part of the year.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Malheur County couple aim for state grant to renovate the historic Rex Theater

State grant will pave way for major upgrades to Rex Theater

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