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Turlock chooses $9.3M arts center

TURLOCK -- The City Council on Tuesday approved a $9.3 million plan for a renovated, two- story Carnegie Arts Center, dedicating $6.32 million immediately and promising the rest in months to come.

The Carnegie Arts Commission building committee presented a $9.3 million plan and a $7.6 million plan to the council last month, but cost concerns stymied discussions. The more expensive plan includes about 4,100 more square feet, the bulk of which is a second-story multipurpose room and outside second-floor terrace. The less expensive one-story option has neither.

Concept A, the $9.3 million plan, was designed after community meetings identified a need for stage rehearsal space. Chamber of Commerce events and wine tasting-type affairs could be held on the terrace, and several theater groups have expressed interest in the multipurpose room.

The difficulty in initially approving the larger plan was one of philosophy.

In November, before Councilmen Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher took their seats on the council, the City Council told the building committee to think big. Redevelopment money was available, and Turlock's arts supporters traditionally have been one of the most active cogs in the city machine with events and fund-raisers, or so that council reasoned. But Howze and Spycher wanted to see a budget.

Tuesday night, the council brought back the issue. Arts supporters packed the chamber -- the largest turnout in months -- and spent more than an hour sharing old stories of family outings, love found and matches made inside the well-worn brick walls.

"Let us catch our breath," Howze told the group. "Some are a little new to this."

Spycher said he didn't want to make a decision until the building cost was determined, which Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher said could not be known exactly until bids go out, and even then, she said, there are cost overruns.

Mayor John Lazar agreed with Hatcher that a decision should be made.

"I guess I'm -- I hate to say this -- a little more liberal," the mayor said.

He smiled wide and looked to his left and right -- at Spycher and Howze -- "a rose between two thorns," he said.

The crowd went wild.

Project up in flames

For a long time, the Carnegie has been a point of passion.

In November 2005, midway through a small renovation project, the building burned after two burglars set a fire to cover their tracks, according to authorities. The arts commission has been working for months to rebuild the center and hopes to have a final plan this fall.

One of 2,000 such libraries built by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the center played host to art classes, exhibitions, poetry readings, storytelling, concerts and plays in recent years. With the fire, more money and space has been made available for what many hope will revitalize an otherwise vacant spot in the North Broadway neighborhood.

Arts planners had about $5 million to work with, but in community meetings, more and more needs cropped up.

Turlock Unified School District board of trustees members Felica Renshaw, Timm LaVelle and Victor Pedroza presented a resolution to the council supporting the $9.3 million plan. Mark Hall, principal of the new Walnut Elementary Education Center, spoke of the increased need for arts activities in town. The waiting list at his arts magnet stretches to four years, he said.

Several faculty members at California State University, Stanislaus, spoke of the need to have cultural and arts events in the city and not just confined to the school campus.

"I'm regularly dismayed and frustrated by the lack of opportunity to do anything other than shop," Associate Professor Stewart Sims told the council.

Theater group's plea

Carin Heidelbach, president of Turlock's Iron Ring Theater Company, echoed the sentiment, adding that her group is in dire need of performance and rehearsal space.

"We'd much rather take our kids to a poetry slam at a new arts center then the courtyard between Panda Express and Starbucks," she said, referring to Monte Vista Crossings.

At the end of the night, everyone on the council and the group came together. There are several ways to make up the funding gap, staff members told the council.

JoAnn Ferrari DiGiovanni, whose family donated $150,000 to the first attempt to renovate the Carnegie, promised to start work on building an endowment for its operation.

"We can't think of a better investment," she said.

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.

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