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Everything old is new again; Re-created Roycroft Power House, ravaged by '97 fire, debuts

It was more of a powerhouse opening than a grand opening for the dozens of people who turned out Friday to roam the spaces of a new regional asset on the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora.

The $4 million re-creation of the old Roycroft Power House was officially unveiled at a reception for community leaders. The event offered a chance for people to see what the building looked like from the outside when it was first built in 1910 and how the inside has been re-envisioned for a modern age and current uses.

"It's an exact copy, except that it looks brand new," said Christine Peters, executive director of the Roycroft Power House.

"That's the only difference and, structurally, it's very well done and we hope that it lasts more than 100 years," Peters added.

The old building didn't quite last that long before it was destroyed by a fire in 1997, leaving quite a blank spot on the two-acre campus, which also houses the Roycroft Inn and restaurant, the Roycroft Copper Shop, an antique shop and other landmark buildings.

"Back in 1910, it supplied the electricity and heat through an underground system to all the buildings on the campus," Peters said.

When the Roycroft businesses closed down in the late 1930s, the powerhouse building was sold to a church, and over the years was sold and reconfigured for use as a professional building and living space.

In October 2005, the Roycroft Campus Corp. purchased the building and raised the roughly $4 million that would be required to reconstruct the exterior to its original form, but with an entirely different configuration inside.

A quick tour of the inside of the roughly 5,000-square-foot building revealed a large and open lobby with a photographic mural that depicts the engine room from the original building as the focal point. Etched into the floors are replicas of the original power markings from the old building.

In addition, one of the concrete walls, part of the coal bunker, was salvaged from the old building as well as a door from the old building. New additions include a glass access bridge from the second-floor conference room, which doubles as a fire exit.

Robin Yates, a local metal-smith, jewelry maker and bronze sculptor, is looking forward to teaching classes in the building. which, she noted, improves on the use of space that was available in the Roycroft Copper Shop. The rear of the building includes slop sinks that weren't available in the copper shop.

"The spaces on the inside are to be used primarily for educational programming, classes, workshops, lectures and for events and as a tourist center." Peters said. "Also, we will be renting out spaces for business meetings and special events.

The trusses in the building replicate the ones that were in the old building. All the furnishings are utilitarian, she said.

"We went for some butcher block tables for our classroom. Our conference room is plain, with seven tables that can be moved apart," said Peters.

Ken Swanekamp, vice president of the board of the Power House and chairman of its campus planning committee, said, "The campus is closer to being back in its original form as it was 100 years ago. Virtually all of the original buildings have been restored, rebuilt and are in operation and being used on a daily basis."

"It's a regional asset. The community really feels like East Aurora is a special place because of it," said Swanekamp.

Kitty Turgeon at one time owned several buildings on the campus and helped to secure landmark status for them in 1986. She was on the campus when the old Power House went up in flames in 1997.

"I was standing right over there watching it burn," Turgeon said Friday, pointing in the direction of the copper shop.

Seeing it rebuilt was a long time coming for her.

"Getting it done makes a big difference in the community. The community is seeing progress," she said.

aid Turgeon.