Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts

PETERBOROUGH — Plans to build a new performance venue at ConVal Regional High School have been discontinued, after the local group organizing the project announced that it will dissolve at the end of the year.

The board of directors of the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts — as the theater would have been called — said in a news release Monday that its nonprofit organization will cease operations Dec. 31, due to a lack of financial support for the project.

“The Board of Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts is deeply grateful to all the students, families, and arts enthusiasts who have contributed to this endeavor with voluntarism, passion, and financial donations,” the organization said in the release.

Students at ConVal — which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — have used a gymnasium and converted lecture hall for music and arts performances since the school opened in 1970, board President Rob Eichler said Monday evening.

Preliminary efforts to fill that void began in 2012, he said, when a group of local parents and educators launched their initiative to build a true theater.

The proposed Contoocook Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, as it was originally known, would have measured 17,100 square feet and offered seating for 400, according to the project website. Its flexible design could have been adapted to host a range of performances — from large choirs, bands and musical theater productions to more intimate concerts, lectures and plays, the organization said.

The venue had an estimated building cost of $6.5 million, with the potential to rise to $8 million with wage and cost increases.

It was renamed the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts in January 2019 for the famed playwright and novelist whose Pulitzer Prize-winning 1938 play, “Our Town,” was inspired by Peterborough, where he spent time in residency at the artists’ retreat MacDowell.

Eichler said the nonprofit planned to launch a capital campaign for the theater’s construction later that year, after organizers presented an architectural plan and other updates at a community meeting in May 2019.

That campaign never got off the ground, however, due to a lack of interest from potential donors, he said. The project’s funds have been further depleted because it suspended the Black Fly Story Hour — a biannual event since at least 2016 featuring live storytelling by students, teachers and community members that served as a fundraiser — during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Eichler.

“It did not seem like a good idea to put 200 people in a small room for a couple of hours,” he said.

Eichler said he would like the event to continue once audiences can gather safely, explaining that it has become “beloved” in the community and offered valuable opportunities for reflection and compassion.

As for the performance venue, he said the nonprofit is no longer financially viable but expressed hope that a future group will build on its work.

“I think the school system and the region would still benefit from a performance space at ConVal High School,” he said.

Caleb Symons can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter CalebSymonsKS.