New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Roof collapses on 100-year-old theatre


December 26, 2022

The Rockford sign atop the Rockford Theatre was laying on its side, but appeared intact, even after the roof collapse. Photo by Kyrie Dauenhauer.

 "It sounded like dynamite going off."

 That's how Manager Glenda Collier explained the sudden collapse of the Rockford Theatre roof on Monday morning, Dec. 19. Due to the intense snow load from the winter storm the week before, the entire roof from the screen to the projection room collapsed onto the main floor at about 10:30 a.m. that day.

 In seconds, the historic movie theater that has been a fixture in downtown New Rockford for more than a century was forced to take an intermission.

 Two movies played the day before – a private party on Sunday afternoon and a scheduled 8 p.m. showing of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – and there was no indication that the structure was in danger.

 The first sign of trouble appeared when Collier arrived at the theater around 8:30 a.m. Monday to prepare for a private showing. Neighboring school districts typically bring buses of staff and students to watch a movie as a Christmas activity, and that day she expected a group at 10 a.m.

 When she went into the auditorium, she noticed a wide crack in the metal ceiling from the balcony to the first landing where the new handicapped accessible seating was installed. There was also a pile of insulation on the floor.

 Her first call was to the school where the kids were traveling from, and she told them not to come. She then called Jeff Knutson at Cash and Carry Lumber, and he came to assess the damage. Boards that had broken away from the rafters due to intense snow load were pushing down on the ceiling.

 Contractor Jesse Lesmeister was called on scene, and he recommended that they clean the snow off the roof to minimize the pressure. Volunteers went to work, but soon came down after hearing noises that indicated the roof may be unstable.

 Within minutes after they all exited the roof safely, it collapsed. Collier said she saw people running and heard what sounded like dynamite exploding from her salon next door. And in seconds, "the roof landed on our new seats," Collier said Monday.

 The Rockford Theatre first opened in 1920 as the Blackstone Theatre. Since then, it has continued to show first-run releases and film classics to moviegoers across the region.

 Collier, her family and an arsenal of volunteers completed a vast interior renovation of the theater during the COVID-19 quarantine. They took the opportunity during the mandated shutdown of movie theaters ordered by Gov. Burgum to not only install new seats, but renovate the whole interior. New flooring and aisle lighting was installed, and the entire interior was repainted. The theater reopened on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 after it had been closed for six months.

 Now it will close again for a while, but certainly not for good.

 Support and concern flowed in almost immediately after the collapse. Within hours of hearing the news via social media, the North Dakota Film Society created a Gofundme page to help raise funds to rebuild the theatre. Residents were also active on the theatre's Facebook page Monday afternoon expressing interest in organizing a public fundraising event early next year.

 Although the damage is extensive, it appears that not all is lost. "I feel that the projection booth is still sound," Collier said. "The Christmas music continued to play until they cut the electricity to the building."

 The building's facade, marquee and Rockford sign also appear to be salvageable. The Rockford sign, which was secured to the roof by cables, was laid on its side across the front of the roof. It is likely still connected to the collapsed portion of the roof, Collier said, but stable in its resting place.

 "We will rebuild," Collier concluded. "I want to stay in that spot because that's where it should be."

 The good news, perhaps, is that the building does not share common walls with the adjacent structures, as is the case with other buildings with flat roofs farther north on the block. Collier said that the separate walls are visible from the rooftop of her salon next door.

 Nonetheless, the New Rockford City Commission decided to close the Eddy-New Rockford Library, located next door to the north, until January 3 to give them time to remove the snow off its flat roof and assess its condition. "Better safe than sorry," President Richter said during a special meeting on Tuesday morning. The commission requested a review from a structural engineer at Interstate Engineering as well;

 The insurance adjuster will not be on scene until Thursday, Dec. 29, which means the damage estimate and insurance settlement amount will not be known until after the new year.

 That also means they won't be able to remove the collapsed roof from the inside of the building or access the projection booth until later this week.

 In the meantime, residents and visitors are asked to please use caution around the front of the building as the entire structure has sustained significant structural damage and there could be further collapse.

 "If you have a flat roof, you should check on it," Collier advised. "We are very thankful and blessed that none of those workers were hurt, and that there was no one inside there when it collapsed."

 The building is owned by local 501(c)3 nonprofit New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation (NRABC), and leased by Collier.

The sheetrock caved in over the concession stand, but the volunteers' paper stockings were untouched. Courtesy photo.

 "We absolutely want to rebuild the theatre and get it up and running," NRABC Executive Director Amanda Hegland said Wednesday. "We will be working hard this next year to get the wheels rolling and get back on track with the theatre. The Rockford Theatre is a gem of an amenity that our rural community was so fortunate to have for so many years!"

 Hegland also expressed appreciation to Collier for her dedication. "Glenda has made the theatre what it is. She does a great job of running it, and I truly feel that her passion lies with it," Hegland said.

 Donors seeking to make a tax-deductible donation should send their contributions directly to NRABC, PO Box 775, New Rockford, N.D. 58356 and earmark it for the theater.

 Donations can also be sent to the Rockford Theatre Benefit Account at Bank Forward, 6 - 8th Street South, New Rockford, N.D. 58356.


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