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Driver Opera House awarded $540,000 grant
the driver Opera House, located at 250 Main Street, was built in 1883 and for 75 of its nearly 130 years, served as the cultural center of Darlington.

DARLINGTON - After applying for the flood proofing grant about eight or nine years ago, but having to postpone because the funds were not there, the DNR was able to approve those plans for the Driver Opera House. The grant will help protect the building against floods without harming its historical structure.
The money from the grant will go towards 70% of any eligible expense in the flood proofing stage. The renovation is called a ‘bathtub flood renovation’ as the Driver Opera House Board President Stan Krahenbuhl stated.
The basement will be filled in and a concrete slab will be placed over that. It will be thick enough so a support beam can go anywhere needed to sustain the second floor. Walls of concrete will stand along side the existing walls with shockproof glass on the windows.
“If one of the windows would happen to break, the water would just go in about a foot because of the cement wall inside, so that it can’t flood the building,” Krahenbuhl explained.
This grant is purely for flood proofing the building. The second floor restoration will not be a part of the bids being taken in January 2017.
“Without this grant, we couldn’t do this,” Krahenbuhl said. They had to keep postponing it those past times because the Driver Opera House did not have the money to contribute towards the other 30% of the project needed. They had to prove to the DNR that they had enough financial backing.
The board really wanted to have this grant approved this year as grants are only supporting 50% of eligible expenses towards flood proofing. Since they had applied in the past but were unable to obtain the money, they were ‘grandfathered’ in but were told this year would be the last year they could apply for the 70% reimbursement.
“It was a relief to find out that we finally got it,” Krahenbuhl commented.
The building will be a foot below the 200 year floodplain. Because of the building style, they are unable to get that last foot without ruining the integrity of the building, so they will have to appeal to the City of Darlington Zoning Board. The DNR contacted FEMA and agreed that they did not want the building disturbed. Other buildings on Darlington’s Main Street are a foot above the flood plain.
The flood proofing will begin in the spring of 2017. Krahenbuhl commented that it would take a couple months to send out bids and choose a general contractor. Then it will be a build as they go. As soon as they have more money, they will build more onto the building.
“We will continue on as we go. Our hope is we don’t have to stop but that depends on funds,” Krahenbuhl said.
The overall goal of the Driver Opera House Restoration project is to help revitalize Darlington’s downtown and offer continued economic stimulus for Southwest Wisconsin. This $2.5 million construction project begins with flood proofing the lower level of the building and once it is finished, it will be available for retail rental. Upon completion of the flood mitigation of the lower level, the upper level restoration of the opera house will take place with that phase being approximately $1.3 million of the $2.5 million project.
There will be a public meeting early in the year for all who are interested in the process of the flood mitigation.