Turlock planners OK arts center

TURLOCK -- Despite questions of parking and noise, the city Planning Commission unanimously approved final plans for the new $9.3 million Carnegie Arts Center.

The project has been more than 10 years in the making.

In the middle of a renovation in November 2005, the arts center was burned down by burglars to cover their tracks, according to police. Built with a 1915 grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie in the Classical Revival style, the building served as the town library for years, then as an education and arts center. The fire gutted the upper floors, destroying the new construction. All that was left were two outside walls and the massive stone steps.

The new design incorporates those ruins into a modern, 18,360-square-foot building, including a 3,070-square-foot visual arts gallery. Classrooms are planned, along with an outdoor plaza, a catering kitchen, a retail shop, staff offices and two large multifunction rooms. The city Arts Commission, which designed the building, expects art shows, theater groups, lecturers, fund-raisers, classes, business meetings, weddings and other social gatherings.

The building will be able to hold 400 people, but the biggest room can accommodate only about 200 seats, said Lisa McDermott, the city's arts facilitator. Youth groups, such as theater troupes, she said, have plans to take up half the weekends in a year, so events such as wedding receptions will be the exception rather than the rule.

Jack Kirchert, manager at Allen Mortuary, said he's concerned about a provision in the plan that allows amplified music in the plaza. City planners suggested giving businesses 10 days' notice of outside or possibly noisy events.

"Ten days' notice is nothing to us. We have families that come in and want a burial within three days," he said.

Kirchert said the mortuary is excited about the project but hopes the city works hard at being a good neighbor.

"We're not playing rock concerts out there. We're talking jazz concerts," said Arts Commissioner Axel Gomez. "This is a class project."

Without an abundance of parking nearby or a dedicated parking lot, planners also got creative. According to the plan, whenever more than 225 people are expected, a parking attendant must be hired.

Planning commissioners said there are enough spots on streets for all but the biggest events, for which measures such as the parking attendant can be used.

"The only thing, what's going on with the adjacent lot?" Commissioner Grady Welch asked.

Last month, the City Council blessed the $35 million idea for a new police station across the street from the Carnegie. There's been no formal approval. The city would have to buy out a few businesses and homeowners to make that happen. The plan calls for turning the lot next door to the Carnegie, which is owned by the city, into a parking lot.

"If the Police Department gets built," Planning Commission Chairman Amos Reyes told the Arts Commission members, "you can use their parking lot."

The Carnegie plan now goes to the City Council.

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

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