FARMINGTON — The
Planning Board began its review of the proposed construction of the
Emery Community Arts Center on Monday, but delayed discussing the Maine
Historic Preservation Commission’s reaction.

The commission was
contacted this past spring for comments on the proposed arts
center in relation to its effect on the Farmington Historic District,
listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

The arts center plans
encompass the front of Alumni Theater on the campus of the University of Maine at Farmington with a partially glassed-in
lobby and create an L-shaped building along the north and west
sides.

After a lengthy
presentation by the project’s architect and engineer, Planning Board Chairman Bussie
York pushed discussion of the commission’s letter to a public
hearing scheduled for the next board meeting on Aug. 10. Community members can walk
the proposed site with planners at 3 p.m. on July 29.

The commission doesn’t
like the proposal, but there are questions of interpretation, UMF President
Theodora Kalikow told the Planning Board, members of the Farmington Historical
Society and supporters of the Farmington Public Library who attended the
meeting.

An anonymous gift was
given to build an arts center to be shared by the university and
the community. The proposed plans would preserve the theater’s facade and
create an arts quad that would benefit the theater by
providing better access to performances. It also would benefit Merrill Hall and the
library, Kalikow said as she urged people to look ahead to the future.

A letter drafted by
Preservation Commission Director Earle Shuttleworth Jr., following a site visit
late in June, noted concerns about enclosing the facade of Alumni
Theater.

The facade of the
gymnasium is highly significant in establishing its historic
character,” he wrote.

The addition of a
lobby/courtyard across the front of the facade visible through a
partial glass front would “alter the historic character of this
building and its distinctive features … effectively relegating it
to a backdrop within a glass case,” he wrote.

The commission also raised
concerns that the new portion of the building, unlike the old, would be
incompatible with the historic Alumni Theater, would fail to protect its
historic integrity and would have a “significant effect” on the space
that connects the theater, Merrill Hall and the library.

As part of a long-range
master plan, the university wants to develop a green space surrounded
by trees in the center of the university with Merrill Hall at the top, Architect Scott Slarsky of designLAB
architects told the Planning Board.

The plan preserves the
front of Alumni Theater, which the university does
not have the funds to do. It also creates better handicapped access to
the theater.

Sandy River Players have
used the theater for 20 years, said playwright Jayne Decker. She explained how wheelchair-bound patrons have to enter
the theater from the back stage and patrons have no space to wait for
performances.

Librarian Melanie Coombs said she was concerned that the arts center project would deter people from visiting the library.

Many people come to the
Farmington Public Library because it is listed on the historic
register, she said.

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