CLT to ask city for building

AUBURN — Community Little Theatre leaders plan to ask the city of Auburn to give them the former Great Falls School building instead of spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to tear it down.

CLT meeting
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Resident Deb Desjardins speaks her mind Saturday about the city of Auburn's announcement that the former Great Falls School building will be closed next May and demolished the following month.

CLT meeting
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Members and supporters of Community Little Theatre met Saturday to brainstorm about finding a new home for the theater. The City Council has voted to close the former Great Falls School building next May and to demolish it the following month.

If the Auburn City Council refuses and proceeds with plans to raze the Great Falls Performing Arts Center, CLT will continue a search it has started, mostly in Lewiston, for a new home, said Karen Mayo, president of the theater's Board of Directors.

Many theater supporters at a town hall-style meeting Saturday seemed fired up about lobbying the City Council to change plans to destroy the building.

Earlier this month, the council voted 4-3 to move all tenants out of the Great Falls Arts Center by the end of May and to demolish the building in June because the center is losing about $30,000 a year.

Theater supporters expressed outrage that the council not only took such a vote, but that it did so without giving the public any notice or any say.

Deb Desjardins was angry about the decision and said she would be at future council meetings. 

“Do I understand this is a liability to the city?" she said. "Certainly, but I also feel that the responsibility for the building being in the condition it's in rests squarely on the shoulders of the city,” she said to applause.

Michelle Jacobus said the council “making a decision like that without notifying the public is at best unethical.” She questioned how that kind of vote could be valid, and asked whether it would be challenged.

Others called the council action a blessing in disguise, because it could bring about a resolution and a home for the theater and others who use the building.

While acknowledging the former high school building is in need of much repair, they said it's the best place around for a theater.

“This is a space that is really hard to replicate,” said Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison. “There isn't a stage in this community that has this kind of stuff. We have a gem, and we've been getting it for a relatively good bargain. But the city has benefited just incredibly. All the money spent on preparing plays and ticket sales stays in the community."

To save $20,000 to $30,000 a year, “they're willing to spend a couple of million dollars to tear it down?” Morrison said to applause. The four councilors who voted to raze the building “care nothing about the arts, for sure, and maybe not about the community either,” Morrison said.

Dick Rosenberg agreed, saying, “Probably three-quarters of the City Council has never been in this building.”

Developer Lee Griswold, who owns the Hilton Garden Inn, said he was “shocked, dismayed, upset" to hear of the council's vote. "There's no other building in the area that begins to compare to the place we're in," he said. "It is a wonderful space.”

No decision is final, Griswold said, recommending some of the anger and passion “we theater people are so famous for” be channeled into trying to get a deal with the city. CLT must get control of the building, he said.

Griswold estimated that if the city tears the building down, it will cost taxpayers $500,000 to $600,000 and the city would have to deal with environmental issues, such as asbestos.

When the city is asked to give the building to CLT, Griswold suggested the city be asked to grant a five-year window in which it would be responsible for building code violations. “That would be a worthy use of some of that money they'd otherwise spend to raze it,” he said.

Mayo said members would be alerted of future City Council meetings at which the Great Falls building will be discussed. CLT board member Bruce Bickford, a former city councilor, said he expected the topic to come up at the Dec. 6 council meeting.

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 's picture

what the city needs to do is

what the city needs to do is transfer ownership of the building to CLT or some other group for $1.....then say you are on your own....the building is yours, its yours to upgrade etc, DON"T ask the City for taxpayer $$. If supporters are truly behind it, they can pull it off...

 's picture

why not just

Why not just tear down the East wing of the building. It would cost less to demolish,less to maintain and heat, less tax, and provide much needed parking.

 's picture

Typical comment by Morrison,

Typical comment by Morrison, we here in Auburn are still paying for his MWAC fiasco. Perhaps he can find and donate some of the money that fell under the table on that deal and give it to CLT.

Great Falls Building-*CLT

The "great" Chip Morrison is clearly out of line out of line stating that the councilors who voted to move this issue forward do not care about the arts, and maybe not even the city,!this issue has been fermenting for yearsand the deadline is nota week or ten days away,it is 6 months away allowwing the CLT,or any other community group time to get organized and come up with a rational plan to take over the building, this group will need a similar energetic effort that was put together to save the YWCA , Chip the ball is in your court, you can be ahero not just a cheap shot artist!


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