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'Greater than the Chatfield community'

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Jimmy Holub, an electrian from Phoenix, Ariz., who works for Commercial AV Systems, takes care of some of the final wiring in Potter Auditorium in Chatfield. The rededication will be Saturday.

CHATFIELD — Almost 80 years to the day after the Potter Auditorium was dedicated in downtown Chatfield, a renovated, improved and updated auditorium will be rededicated Saturday.

Despite the changes, the purpose of Potter is much the same — "a place to serve the people," said Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young.

For 80 years, it's been used for volleyball, basketball and wrestling games or practices for Chatfield schools, but its biggest purpose was the arts. Now, its sole purpose is the arts. The first performance after the rededication will be given by the Wit's End Theatre's production of "The Little Mermaid" that will begin Aug. 5.

The auditorium is part of the larger Chatfield Center for the Arts that is owned by the Chatfield Economic Development Authority.

Potter renovation is not quite done, with workers this week finishing wiring, heating, painting, air conditioning and other parts. But by Saturday, the auditorium itself should be nearly done.

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Some parts, such as the 343 wider, deeper and more comfortable seats on the main floor, are new, as is the orchestra pit. But some work returned it to the way it was 80 years ago: the ceiling is again white after having a lot of nicotine stains over the years and the windows now look like the original ones (they had been replaced with smaller ones for energy efficiency). The paint color had been mundane "but now the colors are more vibrant," Young said.

It was built in the Depression and built with a lot of concrete and steel, making it usable for generations to come. With the renovation, it will be good for more generations to come, Young said.

George H. Potter, who was Chatfield superintendent of schools, had the vision to get money during the Depression to build the auditorium that was later named for him, according to George A. Haven's book "Chatfield: Minnesota Territory." Over the years, "it has been of great use, both to the school and the general public."

It was connected to the old Chatfield school. The high school moved to its new campus on the outskirts of town several decades ago and the elementary school is now in a new building on a bluff overlooking the town.

When the building was no longer needed by the school, it gave the property, and some cash, to the city, Young said. It took down some parts but retained the auditorium and the 1916 building. The city's plan is to seek another grant to further renovate the old school to make it better for the arts.

Work was done with a $5.3 million state grant that is enough for the auditorium, an elevator, and parts of the upgrades to the old school. It will seek another grant for the rest of the work, Young said.

It's meant to be an arts center for the region, with many people who attend concerts or plays there are from Rochester or other cities. Young said it will also have an economic impact, just like tourism, because it brings people into Chatfield.

"This is a property that is greater than the Chatfield community," he said. "This is supposed to complement the regional arts scene."

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It will take its place with other arts venues, such as those in Rochester, Winona, Lanesboro, Zumbrota and other towns.

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The century-old boilers in the 1916 building in downtown Chatfield has the sign of the Board of Education.

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