“I’ve got my pink hardhat, goggles, tool belt and boots,” said Valerie Jensen.
A ground-breaking Friday afternoon will start what’s expected to be a year and a half construction period leading to the opening of The Prospector, a three-screen movie theater in the village.
“Friday we’re going to have a popcorn ground-breaking, and we just want to celebrate the rebirth of the building,” said Ms. Jensen, who plans a total reconstruction of the circa 1940 movie theater. “All are welcome to stop by.”
The event is planned at 4:30 on the site of the old movie house turned bank, off Prospect Street just below the library building.
A $2.55-million sales agreement between Ms. Jensen and the library was closed in August, after approval of her plans by the Planning and Zoning Commission earlier in the summer.
“I’m designing it specially so it can be an educational and vocational training center for adults with developmental disabilities,” said Ms. Jensen, who for years as led both live theater and film-making by SPHERE, the local group that serves developmentally disabled people.
The Prospector will also be a working movie house.
“There are going to be three theaters, commercial first-run theaters, and one is going to be a flexible space available for party rentals, meetings, lectures, parties and sing-offs,” she said.
She’s asking for people to email her with memories of the movie theater, which operated through 1940s, 50s and 60s.
“I’d love it if people can share their stories and fond memories of the building.”
The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m going to be making a documentary of the history of the building and construction of it, about the past, present and future of it,” she said.
Sparkle Island, the film SPHERE completed earlier this year — which tells a story of people saving a theater as a pirate fantasy — was recently accepted to the New York Independent Film Festival in October, she said.
The theater site was originally part of the library property, and Ms. Jensen had been relishing the way her current project echoes the past.
“There are amazing parallels between this building when it was built in 1939 and the story of how it’s getting built today,” she said.
“It was purchased from the library, so the library could renovate and do an expansion. The site of it was selected because of its ample parking and proximity to Main Street.
“And the architect, whose name is John Eberson, wanted to make this a destination for people all around.”
Working with Ms. Jensen on the current project are Peter Coffin and Alex Bellina of DCA Architects.
“The plans are so beautiful,” Ms. Jensen said.
“The large theater will probably be about 150 seats. The second theater will probably be about 110. And the third one will vary depending on its having a flexible configuration, with a lounge and a party room. There will be 50 seats, but we’ll be able to accommodate a few hundred people.
“The sound system that I’m planning on putting in has been compared to people seeing color television for the first time. How good does that sound?”
The building opened as the town’s first movie house in 1940 and had been renovated and used as a bank for some 25 years when it was repurchased in 2000 by the library for its expansion. But many people in town raised their voices against the idea of tearing the building down to make room for its expansion.
“I’d really like to thank everybody in Ridgefield, because this project really came to life when everybody in town encouraged me to build this theater,” Mr. Jensen said. “People have been so excited over the past few years and it was because of everybody’s support and encouragement this was able to happen, and it will be a place that people will love to go to.”