This story originally appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of the Community Voice. If you want the very latest in local news and sports, call 270-384-9454 for a subscription.
Dr. Pamela Stephens, superintendent of the Adair County School District, signed a lease agreement Tuesday afternoon with Dr. Ben Arnold for use of the historic Columbian Theater on the public square. The two have been in negotiations for almost two months and culminated the deal at the location.
“(Mutual friend) Doug Beard knew Dr. Arnold, I did not,” said Stephens. “I did know there was some interest from Dr. Arnold’s side that he really wanted the Columbian Theater to be back in its old form, up and serving Adair County.”
The Columbian Theater opened in 1947 and was thought to have one of the largest screens in the south. In this proposal, Stephens sees the theater’s lights being turned on again for multiple uses, including drama events, choral performances, art displays, and special community occasions.
“This is going to be amazing for all schools in the district,” Stephens said. “We do not have an auditorium and even once the new middle school is built and there is an auditorium, we will still have a use for this theater. This is very exciting.”
Arnold said throughout the negotiations with Stephens, with the help of Beard, he felt comfortable with all the plans. That, he said, was something he didn’t feel from other inquiries looking to purchase the theater. The deal was signed for $1.
“It has been heavy on my heart ever since we’ve closed it,” Arnold said. “I come on the square now and see the theater light out and that gives me a little sting. I just have never had the right chemistry when people came to me.
“A few people had come from Nashville about renting it. I have to tell you, I think Dr. Stephens and Doug Beard, because this got started just five weeks ago, look what they’ve made happen. Between the two of them I know they’re going to make something good happen here.”
Beard agrees a lot can be done.
“I grew up in this theater, walking over here every Saturday to watch the two movies,” Beard said. “We brought this full circle. This is such a perfect fit. I have a pet peeve of watching something that has good potential not happen. This is a win-win for everybody.”
Besides regular use of the facility by local school programs, Lindsey Wilson College and community groups will also be eligible to take the stage.
“I want to see these lights out front on, I don’t even care if anything is burning inside,” Stephens said. “I would like to have our ladies’ choral group from the high school standing right here at this fountain square area singing Saturday, Dec. 4 (during the city Christmas parade). We may have to bring in one of those portable patio heaters to keep them from being frozen.
“I would love to see our spring band concert here. I think the grand opening will be next Christmas, but as far as when anything will be presented, we will have to wait and see. ”
Stephens, Arnold and Beard said they believe this agreement will have a huge impact on the local community. Stephens said she hopes it solidifies the relationship between the community and the school district, while Arnold said he wants the community to feel like the Columbian is their theater.
“We’re going into the Christmas season when Santa Claus is coming to town,” Beard said. “If I could steal that idea, I would say the arts are coming to town.”
By Scott Wilson