- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

LEXINGTON, Neb. (AP) - It’s time to go to the movies in Lexington once again.

The newly renovated Majestic Theatre re-opened this month with “Pitch Perfect 2” showing on the big screen, the Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1GuupLE ) reported.

The re-opening celebrates the 100th anniversary of the theater’s original opening in 1915 and is the realization of a goal students in the Lexington High School class of 2015 set when they were in middle school. They have worked nearly a third of their lives to see the theater re-open.

“Some people doubted us, but I always told myself and others not to give up,” recent graduate Odwuar Quinonez said. “It gave us power to do more hard work.”

“It’s amazing to see how much it’s changed,” recent graduate Kevin Tobias said. He who came to work on opening night. “We never gave up. We saw the potential in it, and seeing it all now, it’s worth it. Five years is a long time to wait, but it’s worth it.”

As the clocked ticked closer and closer to a 7:30 p.m. showtime, student volunteers, who were part of the project from the beginning, coordinated last-minute details.

“It’s just the little things that make us happy right now because there have been so many big things,” high school counselor Michele McKeone said, who is an adult sponsor for the project.

Re-opening the theater has been an $800,000 endeavor, McKeone said, made possible by numerous donations and grants, including $175,000 from the Sherwood Foundation, a $225,000 Community Development Block Grant and two awards from Dawson County Tourism. Funds were solicited during the Lexington Community Foundation’s annual key event and during Give Big Lexington, a community day of giving. The community foundation administers funds collected to pay for the project.

“I’m just so proud of it. This is exactly what I thought it would look like. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s worth it for sure,” McKeone said.

There are 15 families in the theater’s “cast and crew,” Erin Heineman, CFO for Lexington Public Schools, said. Heineman was hired to oversee the theater. Those 15 families are trained on how to run everything and they will lead and support the volunteers who come in to help each weekend.

The Majestic welcomes individual and group volunteers such as businesses, sports teams, scouts or anyone in the community who wants to help out for a weekend.

“I’m excited to see the community come in,” Heineman said. “I felt like this would be a way that I could help, so I threw my name in. I like organizing and getting the business side of it done.”

The Falkingburg family owned and operated the theater from its inception until the doors closed in 2009.

A year later, when a group of middle school students brainstormed to plan a community betterment project, they said what they wanted most was to bring the theater back. The revitalization was initiated by participation in a program called National Network for Educational Renewal, introduced by University of Nebraska at Kearney professors Peter Longo and John Anderson.

The NNER students, as they became known, approached the theater owner and asked if they could help re-open the theater by working as volunteers, but the owner declined. Instead, they were told the theater could be purchased.

That set in motion many youth-led money making projects and community awareness campaigns. Students designed and sold T-shirts, sold flash drives and sold concessions. They also had an annual lip sync competition.

When the student group finally had the $75,000 needed to buy the theater, it approached the Lexington Board of Education to join the project on the student’s behalf and assume ownership to create a nonprofit volunteer-operated theater

Paulsen Inc. of Cozad was hired as contractor, and the $592,000 bid package included making the building handicap-accessible, constructing a new roof and new restrooms, relocating in the lobby area, installing heating and air conditioning, and doing electrical work.

Students helped with demolition and cleanup to prep the site. Students enrolled in a Principles of Construction Class taught by Jim Hoyt worked on the project for two back-to-back class periods a day, doing work such as framing and dry walling while learning about other aspects of construction through observation.

“It’s actually pretty awesome. I didn’t think it would turn out so great,” Manuel Vasquez, 15, said. He is entering his sophomore year of high school and came to volunteer on opening night.

Other new items in the theater are a digital projector and a 20-foot by 11-foot screen. Student input led to the selection of new red rocker-style seats with movable armrests that have cup holders.

“It passed my expectations,” 18-year-old Fayeann Underwood said. “It looks really nice.”

The interior color scheme with a green wall was influenced by the exterior. A fresh coat of paint will be applied to the downtown building’s front as the weather permits. Later, an awning may be added and the marquee will be spruced up.

“We’re excited,” Heineman said. “I’m excited to see the community come in. Some people have come in to sneak a peek. For them to see the final, completed project, I think they will be amazed to see the transformation.”


Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/

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