Community center or community theater? Mixed messages about plans for 3 Owens Road property.


Renderings for a proposed new sign at the 3 Owens Road property in Croton Falls.

In late February, an Instagram post from The Schoolhouse Theater announced that the nonprofit professional theater would reopen April 14 in the space it formerly occupied at 3 Owens Road in Croton Falls. The Town of North Salem purchased the property in 2021 and has been renovating it ever since, with plans to open as a new community center. Now, some community members are questioning what the building will primarily be used for: community programming, as has been promised, or to provide a newly renovated home for one specific arts organization.

The Schoolhouse Theater is currently promoting a slate of three performances for 2023: "RED," to run from April 14 - 30; "Grant and Twain," to run from June 30 - July 16, and "(mis)UNDERSTANDING Mammy," to run from October 13-29. Each show is advertised as having Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances throughout its run. The organization's  Instagram post begins, “the 99-seat performance space and arts center at 3 Owens Road was shuttered due to the pandemic in 2020,” before ending with, “tell your family, tell your friends, tell the stranger next to you on the train, ‘Westchester County’s oldest, longest-running Professional Theater is reopening doors after three years closed!”

Warren Lucas, North Salem Town Supervisor, said of the Theater’s Instagram post, “We talked to them about that and I believe they changed it. We told them it was not appropriate.” As of March 1, the post was unchanged.

Lucas’ chief of staff, Janine Kourakos, is a member of the Schoolhouse Theater’s board of directors. In an email, Lucas said that the Town’s attorney told Kourakos he didn’t see the possibility of a conflict of interest. “She is not involved in policy or in any contracts with the Town,” Lucas said, adding “the contractual stuff is being handled by the Rec department and Councilman Aronchick, a lawyer and the Town Board Recreation liaison. 

Lucas said that The Schoolhouse, "obviously [doesn't] own or control the building but are using it for 20 days on and off in April, often only in the evening for practices.” A document obtained by the North Salem Post, titled “Proposed Building Schedule 2023,” shows a detailed rehearsal schedule for all three 2023 performances, totaling over 700 hours of time in the building, including rehearsals, tech setups and performances for each of the three shows. Lucas acknowledged that the Theater wants to use the building for their other two 2023 plays, but did not specifically say whether or not those plans had been confirmed or approved by the Town.

Lauren Rosasco, superintendent of the Recreation Department, directed questions about 3 Owens Road to the North Salem Town Board. “As I understand it, Rec will be organizing the programming but until the building is ready to open, the Town Board has been handling the renovation, policies, contracts, etc.,” she said.

Council member Martin Aronchick wrote in an email, “The Town has received an application from The Schoolhouse Theater to use the theater, and it is being reviewed by the Town Board and Lauren.”

An Instagram post by the Schoolhouse Theater on Wednesday, March 1 said, “there are 6 weeks until re-opening/opening night! Do you have your tickets yet?”

Owen Thompson, artistic director for The Schoolhouse Theater, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Aronchick said that the town intends to officially open the building for community use later this month. “Different parts of the facility may come on sooner than other parts, depending on the speed with which we can complete renovations, other improvements, and securing necessary furnishings and equipment,” Aronchick said, adding, “it is a large and complicated undertaking.”

Lucas said that while he understood that some residents have concerns about the building’s planned usage, the building has ample space for simultaneous programming. He noted plans for a senior room, kids art room, a dance/yoga room, art gallery, and movie screens.

Aronchick said that the Town plans to communicate updates about the building as early as next week. “Those updates will call attention to the existing mechanism on the Recreation Department website where members of the public can submit programming ideas,” he said.

“There were three equity theaters in Westchester before COVID. There is only one now, The Schoolhouse Theater,” said Lucas. If we find that everyone can’t use the space, the deference will go to Town programs but right now especially for [The Schoolhouse Theater’s] April performance that is not the case.”

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