AUBURN – A $30,000 study should point the way for a downtown arts center, councilors heard Thursday.

Members of the Community Little Theatre group hope to split the cost of a feasibility study with the city, according to acting City Manager Laurie Smith. Smith has been meeting with members of the group’s board of directors since May discussing possible redevelopment there.

“We’ve looked at different combinations in terms of what to do with the building and how best to move it forward,” Smith said Thursday. “We have lots of good ideas and staff and volunteers that know how to do this. But I think what we’re missing is the expertise from people who’ve seen this and done this a variety of times to bring all of the pieces together.”

The study would look at the structural integrity of the building, determine its potential as a stand-alone performing arts center, asses the parking needs for the site and recommend uses for the land surrounding it.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on the matter at their regular meeting Monday.

The city took over the 53,000-square-foot building from the School Department in 1997. Groups including Community Little Theatre and the Edward Little Drama Club call the building home.

A state fire marshal inspected the building in 2003 and found 74 fire code violations. Some repairs, such as lighting emergency exits and covering exposed wires were easy. But fire marshals wanted sprinkler and alarm systems installed and called for other structural repairs.

“It seems like every year, we’re voting on $250,000 to $300,000 in work the building needs,” said Ward 3 Councilor Eric Samson. The city has replaced sprinklers for the building’s gym and auditorium.

But work would continue through 2012, and that calls for heating system upgrades, new parking lots, new safety exits, an elevator and waterproofing.

All together, the repairs call for $1.9 million through 2012.

Smith said the theater group hopes to take ownership of the building or get a long-term lease from the city. That would let them qualify for state or federal grants.

City Councilor Ray Berube said getting grants would be important to maintain the city’s support.

“I think we’d really need to see some specific movement over the next 12 months, as far as getting grant money is concerned,” Berube said.


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