AUBURN — Councilors want to meet with Community Little Theatre officials to figure out the city's role in the future of the Great Falls School.
"That last council chose to walk away and their way of walking away was tearing down half the building and giving them a lease for 99 years," Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said Monday night. "But I'm not sure if you can make the arts work by doing that and just walking away. I think we need to be more engaged."
At issue is a $20,160 line councilors set aside for community arts last spring in their 2012-13 budget discussion. Councilors earmarked that money for the theater group but never specified how it would be given to them or how it could be used.
Councilors Belinda Gerry and Joshua Shea and City Manager Clinton Deschene were asked to meet with the theater group's board to discuss their plans for building. They're expected to report back to their City Council colleagues at a future workshop meeting.
City councilors signed a 99-year lease with CLT in August 2011, giving the group control of the building. Then the city demolished the west wing of the old Great Falls School. In its place is an unpaved parking lot.
The theater group is in charge of all heating, utilities, snow plowing and repairs for the east wing. They also pay property taxes to the city and can sublet spaces.
The east wing is home to the theater and its costume storage space, the gym, and some vacant offices.
Councilor Shea argued for some involvement from the city.
"It really can be an asset for the city," he said. "While it is under CLT's care, we do technically own the building. We need to maintain that and make sure this is the highest performing asset for what this could become."
Councilor Gerry said she was cautious about taking too big a role.
"The city doesn't have a whole lot of money," she said. "We're just starting to get back on our feet financially, and we have a lot of other things we need to pay for."
Councilor Leroy Walker said he would like to see the city's money dedicated to improving the grassy area in front, between the building and Main Street.
"It is the beginning of Main Street, going to downtown or New Auburn," he said. "I'd like to see an idea, or a plan, of how we could move that area forward."