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Archive for Wednesday, December 9, 1998

ARTS CENTER CUTS CAUSE CONCERN

December 9, 1998

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Frustrations, curiosity and hope all surfaced during Tuesday's meeting of the Mayor's Arts Center Advisory Committee.

Eliminating curved walls, revising theater space and relocating a ceramics studio should help a renovated and expanded Lawrence Arts Center fit into its $5.625 million project budget.

So why isn't anyone happy?

Take your pick of reasons, judging by Tuesday morning's meeting of the Mayor's Arts Center Advisory Committee.

After seeing revised designs for the project, committee members' reactions ranged from curiosity to outright fear -- curiosity about the reasoning behind the cutting 1,700 square feet of space from the project, and fear that future cuts could undermine the project's purpose in the first place.

Ann Evans, the center's executive director, noted that the proposed performance hall isn't big enough, the stage isn't big enough and even space for future expansion might not be big enough, given options discussed during the meeting.

"There's a point where we can't keep cutting, or we have to do something else," Evans said. "We just can't keep whittling away."

Karmen Huyser, president of the center's board of directors, said he couldn't imagine seeing another slice in the project, no matter what the state's historic preservation officer or anyone else might say.

When Linda Finger, the city's planning director, suggested looking into the possibility of saving an adjacent house -- by relocating an alley and cutting into the center's proposed open space for an outdoor preschool classroom -- Huyser clearly had heard enough.

"One more old house isn't going to save this city," Huyser said. "The arts center is going to save this downtown. One more old house is not going to save this downtown.

"We either have to go with it or we're going to have to find another place for this arts center. I've run out of patience on this thing."

Huyser said he had his eye on at least one "available" building outside the downtown area, if the center were to relocate from its current home inside the city's former Carnegie Library, 200 W. Ninth.

"Trying to shoehorn this thing in to save another house is not for me," Huyser said.

Talk of moving the center to a new location is nothing new. In fact, the center's board of directors actually decided last year -- after nearly 10 years of planning -- to bolt for an 8.3-acre site behind the Hallmark Cards plant, 101 McDonald.

Lawrence city commissioners, however, decided to keep the center and its 95,000 annual visitors in the downtown area by adding onto to the Carnegie, a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Commissioners have agreed to kick in $3.635 million for the project, while arts center officials are committed to collecting at least $2 million in grants and donations. Officials long have envisioned a $5.8 million project.

Tuesday morning, the project's architects met with members of the advisory committee to discuss options before taking the project's designs to the city's Historic Resources Committee for review. State preservation officials already had criticized portions of the project, including its height and overall size.

David Dunfield, project architect for Glenn Livingood Penzler Architects, said he cut 1,700 square feet from the proposed addition by relocating the ceramics studio to the lower level of the Carnegie building and eliminating screen walls near entrances.

John Gaunt, a member of both the committee and the center's board of directors, said it was "unfortunate" that much of the project's "playfulness" had been removed in order to meet the budget and attempt to satisfy preservation concerns.

Even so, the project is essential at its current site, he said, because a downtown arts center in a Carnegie building means energy, vitality and activity.

"It is such a perfect location for an arts center," said Gaunt, dean of Kansas University's School of Architecture and Urban Design. "There is simply no reason that I've ever heard ... that could erode the support for this project. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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