COLUMBIA — Boughs will have to be cut down in Nifong Park before bows can be taken on the still-standing stage at the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre.
Although the cause of the fire that claimed the 150-year-old barn on April 5 is still under investigation, plans to rebuild can't be put into effect until several damaged trees are removed.
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The heat of the fire was so intense that trees up to 20 feet away were damaged beyond healing, said Chad Herwald, a forester for the city's Parks and Recreation Department. At least 10 trees must be removed, Herwald said.
Work began Monday morning by a private contractor, Arthur Ratliff Stump Grinding and Tree Removal.
"It happened when the trees were moving a lot of sap around and just starting to bud out," Herwald said.
Even though some of the trees were still able to produce buds on a few branches, the damage was so severe that they would be more susceptible to disease and most likely die within the next year, Herwald said. The department determined that it would be easier to remove the trees now, before the new barn is built.
The current plan is to build a replica of the historic Maplewood Barn on the site of the original barn, said Lee Wilkins Black, vice president of the Maplewood Barn Association board of directors.
The exterior would look the same while the interior would be modernized with electric lights and running water, two luxuries that were not available in 1877 when the original barn was built. Aside from making acting conditions much more comfortable, this update could mean a longer season for the theater.
"It's conceivable that (the barn) could be used for more than just the summer months," Wilkins Black said.
Opening night of "Arsenic and Old Lace" will go ahead as planned on May 14. Wilkins Black said the board is hoping the performance will happen on the Maplewood stage, but that depends on how long it takes to clean up the site. This season is being called the "Phoenix Season" by the Maplewood Barn Association, in reference to a mythical bird that dies and is resurrected through fire.
Due to a streak of vandalism the property has suffered in recent years, the fire is being considered suspicious and is still under investigation. Capt. Eric Hartman with the Columbia Fire Department said Friday that the investigation could still take several days.
The total cost of damages to the barn structure is estimated at $100,000, Hartman said. That estimate does not take into account any contents of the barn that belonged to the theater company. Wilkins Black said the cost of lost contents was unknown, but set pieces, power tools and costumes were claimed by the fire.
The Maplewood Barn is still asking for help from the community. Wilkins Black said the theater has received an outpouring of support from other community theaters and residents. The Boone County Historical Society has offered to store donated and borrowed costumes for the season, Wilkins Black said.
They currently need a construction trailer that could be locked in order to store tools and set pieces for their upcoming show, Wilkins Black said.
"We can't accept tools or other donations until we have a place to store them safely," Wilkins Black said.