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Shea lease lapsed, selectmen OK stop-gap

TURNERS FALLS — The Montague Board of Selectmen voted on Monday night to mitigate the damage of a lapse in the lease held by the volunteers who keep the only community theater in the immediate area running, extending the Shea Theater lease until Dec. 31, 2015. The motion unanimously approved by the selectmen additionally instructed the town administrator to seek a written legal opinion clarifying whether the town has a legal obligation to put the space up for bid.

Shea board of directors President Michael Glazier had asked the selectmen for a 10-year renewal, saying the uncertainty will jeopardize the nonprofit’s ability to keep the theater’s schedule filled. Glazier said people in the entertainment industry want to know they’ll have a place to perform well in advance, and the Shea has already lost one client.

Selectmen opted for the stop-gap on the advice of Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio, who said the town is required by state law to put the lease out for bid due to its value.

Local boards are prevented from awarding contracts, selling property and similar transactions above a certain threshold without an open bid process.

Glazier said the Shea’s executive board — eight volunteers — learned only last month that their 10-year lease of the building at a token $1-per-year has lapsed.

Abbondanzio said the lease required the board to notify the town a year in advance if they intended to renew. Abbondanzio said the town lawyer had advised a request for proposals was required during discussion of another property, but did not have a written opinion.

Requests for proposals are tailored by town officials for a desired result, and the town has a lot of discretion in selecting the winner.

Selectman Mark Fairbrother said the town does not have to opt for the highest bidder, but for whomever will do the best job.

“I would think that you have a leg up on that,” Fairbrother said.

Fairbrother made the comment in response to accusations from Nick Waynelovich — a past president of the Shea board and current customer through his Ja’Duke performing arts company — that the town was acting in the spirit of business rather than the best interests of the community.

“We completely support the Shea and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to speed up the process,” said Selectman Michael Nelson.

Waynelovich called the theater the gem of Franklin County, and said renters like himself would not rent the space under new direction because they would not be able to afford it.

“The Shea Theater is the gem of Franklin County and I don’t understand, if it’s not broke why fix it?” Waynelovich said. It was on Waynelovich’s insistence that the selectmen will seek a written legal opinion.

Student members of the Franklin County Technical School’s musical theater group stood at the request of science teacher Dan Prasol, who began the group in 2013. Prasol said the group is the first of its kind at the tech school, and would not have been possible without the support of the Shea board. The school has no theater, and the Shea has hosted the student productions. “The Shea Theater is our home, they are such an ingrained part of the community that they have reached out and taken in a school,” Prasol said.

Kevin Tracy, co-founder of theater company Ghost Light Theater said he could not have done it without the Shea board. “They did not care about money, they cared about art,” he said.

In tailoring the motion, Nelson extended the interim contract several times to accommodate the Shea’s current lineup, and selectmen repeatedly suggested that a proposal from the nonprofit would be well-positioned to win if a request for proposals is issued. Selectmen instructed Abbondanzio to report back on the question at their next meeting, in two weeks.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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