Archive for Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Carnegie candidates await fate

Third organization seeks to use historic building

April 13, 2004


Today could be the first day of the rest of Carnegie Library's life.

Two years after the Lawrence Arts Center left the historic downtown building for new digs -- and after a year of structural renovation -- the Lawrence City Commission tonight could pick the Carnegie's next tenant.

"I think we're ready for phase two," Mayor Mike Rundle said Monday, the first phase being the renovation and sifting of proposals.

Two finalists are scrapping for the opportunity to occupy the Carnegie, at the northwest corner of Ninth and Vermont streets, with a third organization throwing its name into the ring within the past week.


The finalists:

  • The Langston Hughes Center for Community Enrichment, which wants to use the building to promote "diverse literacies" through computer classes, book clubs, oral history projects and other programs. Commissioners already have designated the Hughes Center the front-runner.
  • Lawrence Arts Commons, which would use the building as a studio residence for four artists to receive professional mentoring. The organization hopes to share the building with a reluctant Hughes Center.
  • The Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets may soon
have a new tenant.

    The Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets may soon have a new tenant.

The interloper is Americana Music Academy, which already provides music lessons at a building in the 1400 block of Massachusetts Street. The academy's proposal was submitted to commissioners last week -- nearly a year after City Hall solicited proposals for the Carnegie and began narrowing the finalists.

"I wanted to get them the proposal so they would know an alternative was out there, in case they didn't like what they were seeing," said Thom Alexander, the academy's director.

Rundle said Monday that Americana was likely to get little consideration tonight.

"This is my personal view perhaps, but we are not entertaining new proposals," he said. "I don't think it's fair to single out one group without opening up a new request for proposals that everybody can apply to. I'm not going to let somebody skip a deadline that everybody was held to."


That leaves the Hughes and arts commons groups.

During a November meeting, commissioners looked at nine proposals and gave the Hughes proposal its highest score, with the arts commons the runner-up. Commissioners urged the two organizations to negotiate whether they could share the building.

In March, Hughes officials said the building was too small to share.

"In addition to space needed for offices, diverse classrooms, a performance area, a gallery and a commons area, the Hughes Center recognizes that elevators and special rest rooms for use by people with disabilities and the elderly must be constructed," Elizabeth Schultz of the Hughes Center wrote in a letter to City Hall. "The arts commons' need for artists' studio space would thus ... have to be severely curtailed."

But arts commons supporters say a space-sharing arrangement is possible.

"Our feeling is that both (organizations) are each selflessly addressing a valued need in Lawrence," said Lee Gerhard, co-chair of the Lawrence Committee for the Advancement of the Visual Arts.

Inside track

Rundle suggested Monday the Hughes Center still had the inside track, but he wants to see the organization flesh out its proposal.

"They still have a lot more work to do after the commission tells them to continue, in terms of identifying funding sources," Rundle said. "They need to bring us a report on alternatives."

The commission is to hear public discussion of the alternatives at its meeting at 6:35 p.m. today in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

A brief history of the Carnegie Library building:¢ 1904: The library is built on the northwest corner of Ninth and Vermont streets with money provided by steel baron Andrew Carnegie. During his childhood, author Langston Hughes is thought to have been an early patron.¢ 1972: The library vacates the Carnegie for a roomier building at 707 Vt. The Lawrence Arts Center becomes the next tenant.¢ 1989: Short of space and thinking about the future, arts center officials begin working on expansion plans; ideas are met with opposition from preservationists.¢ 1997: After years of discussion and opposition, arts center officials abandon plans to expand at the Carnegie.¢ 1998: For the second time in three years, the Kansas Preservation Alliance puts the building on its list of 10 most endangered historic places.¢ 2002: The arts center vacates the Carnegie for a roomier building at 940 N.H. Officials decide the Carnegie must be renovated to retain its structural integrity before a new tenant is found.¢ 2003: The Lawrence City Commission approves the structural renovations -- at an eventual cost of $400,000 -- and solicits proposals from organizations wanting to be the next tenant.¢ November 2003: Commissioners designate the Langston Hughes Center for Community Enrichment as the front-runner to occupy Carnegie but ask the organization to negotiate a possible space-sharing arrangement with Lawrence Arts Commons.¢ March: Hughes Center officials say space sharing is impossible. Arts commons supporters disagree.¢ Tonight: The City Commission will hear public discussion and provide direction about the Carnegie's future.

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