City commissioners are working their way through the process of deciding what type of fun they want the community to have in the now-vacant Carnegie Library building.
Commissioners are down to two choices at the moment: a new music academy by Lawrence-based Americana Music Academy, celebrating the area's music history, or a traditional community center that would provide classroom space for the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
Both organizations are lobbying commissioners for the use of the building, which has been vacant at Ninth and Vermont streets since the Lawrence Arts Center moved to 940 N.H. in 2002.
The nonprofit music academy would use the 10,000-square-foot building to teach classes ranging from guitar to harmonica lessons. It also would use the building's theater for shows and rent space for community events.
"If we're downtown we could tie this in with the arts center and the new library, and we could have an incredible arts and cultural mecca in downtown that would be unstoppable," said Thom Alexander, executive director of the 4-year-old academy.
Parks and Recreation leaders would use the building to house classes - like dance lessons - but would place a heavy emphasis on providing meeting space for community events.
Fred DeVictor, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said demand for meeting was outstripping the city's current supply. For example, the city crews at the Union Pacific Depot building turned away 100 individuals in 2005 who sought to schedule an event at the facility but found it either too small or unavailable.
Plus, DeVictor said his organization should be given strong consideration because it would keep the building under the direct control of the city government.
"We're spending some tax dollars on this and would ask you to keep this in the public arena so the accountability would remain with you all," DeVictor told city commissioners in March.
But if the Parks and Recreation Department occupies the building, the city would be responsible for paying the utilities and maintenance costs of the building. Plus it likely would require the hiring of new staff members to operate the building.
Under the proposal from Americana - which is not seeking to buy the building but rather occupy it rent-free - the academy would pay all the utility and maintenance expenses and would pay all of its staffing expenses.
Thus far city commissioners mainly are listening but haven't said which proposal they prefer. Commissioners have expressed opinions that they are looking for a project that would not add to the city's budget, but some also have said they are reluctant to turn the building over to a private entity because the city will invest more than $1 million in renovating the early 20th century building.
The major renovation will be a small 1,600-square-foot addition onto the north side of the building. The addition would house an elevator, stairway and handicapped-accessible restrooms that are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act before the building can be occupied again. The addition would be built in a portion of the city parking lot that is directly north of the building.
City commissioners currently are trying to settle on a design for the addition. David Dunfield, the project's architect and a former city commissioner, has proposed a more modern-looking addition. The new construction would largely have a glass front, which in contrast to the traditional architecture on the original Carnegie Library, which was built in 1904.
"We're proposing to build it in the style of our time," Dunfield said.
Dunfield said his firm was recommending a more modern look, in part, because the building has already had its style changed once before. The building was added onto in 1937 and used a less ornate style than that of the 1904 building. The new addition would be connecting onto the 1937 addition, which was built in a Depression-era style.
Work on the $700,000 addition could begin this summer and be completed in 2007.