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Fundraising aimed at cooling old theater

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HILO >> Operators of a nonprofit Hawaii island theater are asking the community to support a fundraising campaign that would bring air conditioning back to the 90-year-old structure.

The Palace Theater was one of the first buildings in Hilo to have air conditioning; a system was installed in the music venue and movie theater after World War II. But that system died in the 1970s and has never been replaced, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

The We’re Chillin’ campaign was launched Sept. 1 and has raised $50,000, with another $60,000 pledged.

“At this point, we’re guardedly optimistic,” said Wendy Peskin, president of the theater’s board of directors.

A photovoltaic system to reduce the theater’s energy bill is expected to cost about $138,000, and air conditioning will be an additional $100,000.

When the board looked at installing air conditioning in the past, the theater’s electricity bill was already about $20,000 annually. “This is a very large space we need to air-condition,” said theater executive director Morgan Bahurinsky. “We’ve been doing a lot of homework.”

Palace Theater board members are working to secure grants, leaving about $60,000 in community fundraising still needed. The group hopes to fund solar panels by early 2016 and install the AC system by next summer.

The theater closed in 1984 and was used as a warehouse until the 1990s. A campaign succeeded in reopening the building as a theater in 1999.

Most of the theater’s funds have gone to restoring the building, making sure it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, fumigating for termites and adding amenities.

Bahurinsky said the best thing community members can do is keep patronizing their business. More than 20,000 people visit the theater each year.

“Even if each person gave only one dollar, that’s $20,000 (we’d have),” she said.

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