Silver Foundation sues previous owners, alleging 'hidden defects' behind the theater's collapse 

Just over a month before the Silver Theater collapsed under the weight of ice and snow, a ceiling tile fell down. The building's owners, the Morris and Helen Silver Foundation, checked it out and made a discovery: a blue tarp, concealed from view, and two buckets to catch water as it fell from the roof.

The buckets were full.

These details about the mysterious, sudden collapse of the theater at 2023 S. Higgins Ave., just two weeks before it was scheduled to be packed with Big Sky Film Festival moviegoers, are outlined in court documents filed recently by the nonprofit.

In a civil case filed April 28 in Missoula County District Court, the Silver Foundation alleges that the theater's former owners, the now-dissolved Calvary Community Church, misrepresented its condition and failed to disclose "hidden defects" that contributed to the roof's collapse. The foundation is suing the church's directors for fraud and breach of contract, among other complaints.

After the building collapsed, Foundation Director Carolyn Maier was circumspect about the situation. She previously declined to discuss details, citing insurance negotiations, telling the Indy only that "it wasn't just like all of a sudden the roof fell down." Commercial buildings very rarely collapse.

In the days that followed, ABC Fox reporter David Winter interviewed a structural engineer and Calvary's former board president Jim Ramsey about the roof. Ramsey recalled having damaged the roof in 1996 while clearing snow with a snow blower. He reportedly installed a new waterproof roof surface whose 20-year guarantee would have expired in 2016.

The foundation references the news report in its complaint, alleging that the church should have disclosed those details in the buy-sell agreement or other property disclosure statements prepared during the sale.

The sale closed in July 2015 after the foundation received multiple extensions for its property inspection. The foundation was nearing completion of an interior renovation when the theater collapsed.

Ramsey was on a fishing boat in Florida with his wife, and unaware of the lawsuit, when reached by the Indy. He expressed surprise and confusion, given that the church had paid for roof upgrades during its ownership of the property.

"There weren't any defects in the roof when we sold the church," he says. "Not that we knew about."

Maier declined to comment on the suit on the advice of the foundation's attorney. She says the city has certified demolition of the theater's structural remnants as complete.

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