Councilors hear plans for YMCA, community theater to share space


AUBURN — A combined recreation and arts center could replace the Great Falls School building, councilors were told Tuesday.

Assistant City Manager Laurie Smith said the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA is looking at alternative sites for an expanded recreation facility and has included city land around the Great Falls School on its list.

Smith said it would be one way to revitalize the land, off Academy and Main streets downtown, and provide an arts and recreation campus.

“Envision what you would like to see down in that area,” Smith told councilors at a special workshop meeting Tuesday.  “What we build down there could become a link to Lewiston, and a link between New Auburn and the downtown.”

The city has owned the Great Falls School land since 1874 and used it as a school until the mid-1990s. The building is home to the Community Little Theatre, the Edward Little High School Drama Club and several other arts and education groups.

The land has been called key to the city’s development in studies dating back to the 1995 Comprehensive Plan. The 2000 ADAPT plan suggested redeveloping the building as a cultural center and the current draft Comprehensive Plan suggests making it a multiple-use community area.

Groups currently pay the city $50,000 per year in rent, but the building costs the city about $60,000 to maintain and heat.

Smith said the land surrounding the building may be more valuable than the building itself.

“If we renovate it, we still have a 55,000-square-foot building that doesn’t quite fit our needs,” she said. A new campus on the lot could have room for the current tenants, as well as an auditorium and better recreation uses.

“It’s my understanding that the YMCA is looking to go far beyond what they currently offer,” Economic Development Director Roland Miller said.

Councilors agreed to continue marketing the building to arts groups and small businesses while the YMCA considers its options.

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