AUBURN — Actors, directors, teachers, potters and dancers Tuesday began planning for life without the aging Great Falls Arts Center.
Some were in shock. Some sped up preparations to relocate and others hoped to make a final plea for the survival of the downtown arts hub.
"We're not going to go dark," vowed Thomas Peters, vice president of the 70-year-old Community Little Theatre. "We can't."
City councilors voted Monday night to close the complex in May 2011 and to raze it a month later.
The move may end more than a decade of debate over what to do with the former Great Falls School on Academy Street, once the city's high school.
Fourteen tenants — including a dance studio, a fitness center and a genealogy workshop — would be forced to relocate or close.
"My head is kind of spinning," said Lindsey Tomlinson-Peck, who runs The Mudroom Pottery Studio in a former classroom. "I felt like I was just getting going."
She started the business in March, offering a variety of pottery workshops and classes. She knew that the fate of the building was uncertain, but she also knew such talk had a long history.
"This was my dream," she said. She could afford the modest rent and spent thousands of dollars to outfit her area with a kiln and other equipment.
"My hope is to find another space," she said.
The Edward Little High School Drama Club will also be hunting for space if the demolition plan goes through.
Without the arts center, the high school will have no drama club, said Deb Bishop, who oversees the after-school program.
"I'm in shock," she said Tuesday. She had gone into Monday's City Council meeting expecting a change in rent or the amount of space her kids might be allotted.
The club has about 35 core members. This weekend, they completed the year's biggest show, performing "Pippin" for overflowing audiences. If the club is forced out in May, the fate of the senior show may be in jeopardy, she said.
For now, she plans to talk with school leaders and her students.
"What does this mean for us? I really don't know," she said.
In the basement occupied by the SHAREcenter, a nonprofit group that shares donated supplies and offers job training, the news merely sped up plans to get out, Director Diane Doe said.
"I'm sure we will relocate," she said.
On Tuesday, Community Little Theatre's Peters, a Lewiston lawyer, listened to suggestions and offers for help from around the community. On Saturday, the theater company's Board of Directors plans to meet and decide the next move.
"Do they want to go any further with this building and this site?" he asked.
Were the city to offer the building to Community Little Theatre — the complex's oldest and biggest tenant — Peters wondered how that might work.
The costs would be considerable.
In 2008, the amateur theater company and the city hired an analysis of the building.
Though it’s old and in ill repair, analysts found that it is structurally sound. They estimated the cost of renovating the building at $7.5 million to $10 million. They predicted that tearing it down and building a new arts center might cost $15 million.
The report suggested re-branding the building, creating a quasi-governmental organization to run it and market the space to arts groups.
The building currently loses money: about $29,000 during the 2009-10 fiscal year — and $240,000 over four years. This year, the city expects to spend $63,247 on the building, almost half of that for heating fuel.
Councilors argued that the building is too expensive to keep.
If the building is demolished, Peters believes Community Little Theatre will go on.
The first mission would be to find a temporary home to continue its work while it raises money and readies a new performance space.
"We're going to try and Band-Aid it somehow," he said.
Then, a permanent home must be found. It might open the institution up to federal, state and private grants that have so far been out of reach. Without a long-term lease, many groups with money to grant refuse to give.
Peters believes leaders in the city of Auburn must decide if they want to keep the long-running institution.
"There is no vision," he said. "I am no longer worried about leaving Auburn."