May 9 2013

Council Defers Decision on Use of 801 Magnolia

Seniors/Adults or Child Care Use Discussed – 

The May 6th City Council meeting engendered long deliberations and lively public participation — but no final decision  —  on the use of the east wing of the city-owned building at 801 Magnolia Avenue.  Currently, the west wing and some of the east wing houses the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

The Arts Center has proposed, at no cost to the City, to provide improvements and management of the facility and to continue with their goal of providing art-focused activities, along with a regular time for seniors to use the facility twice a week, a place for Piedmont historical records, arts programs, and an ability to accommodate diverse interests.

Two other proposals were made.  One could be combined with the Arts Center usage and the other dealt primarily with children and required extensive equipment.

City Recreation Director Mark Delventhal and City Administrator Geoff Grote strongly recommended that the City retain usage of the facility rather than relinquishing it to the Arts Center.  They envisioned the space for child care and made available for other purposes when not in use for child care.  Delventhal acknowledged that transforming the room for other purposes would likely require a janitor, for instance, to roll up rugs, move furnishings, and child equipment.   It was pointed out by speakers that a child care program conflicts with the current use of the Arts Center and questioned the joint use of restrooms and other features of the building.

Residents Hedi Gerken, Margie Bowman, and Bob Cheatham stated it was time for the City to consider adults in their programing, noting their need for a place to gather and be with contemporaries.  Delventhal acknowledged the need in stating the once a month program dedicated to seniors had high usage of approximately 70 participants.

Nancy Lehrkind, President of the Board of the Piedmont Center for the Arts, presented the Arts Center’s offer to pay for all needed improvements, including windows, flooring, cabinets, furnishings, paint, and a new  sink, estimated at $25,000.  Additionally, the Arts Center would provide management and scheduling of the facility at no cost to the City. The highly successful Center has drawn over 10,000 to its events.  Lehrkind, although  initially requesting a concurrent lease with the use of the west wing, was amenable to a trial period of approximately 3 years, to permit amortization of improvement expenses.  The Arts Center has already invested approximately $125,000 to reroof, replace windows, paint, remodel restrooms, landscaping, and make other improvements to the previously neglected building.

Council member Garrett Keating during prior Council consideration had requested staff to provide specific numbers on the cost of the City’s proposed child care plan, but none were provided.  The costs to the City were loosely estimated at $125,000 to $150,000.  The number of children served would be in the range of 20 – 30.

Council member Jeff Weiler wanted to know if the Arts Center had complied with its current lease.  Grote stated the lift for disabled access to the rest rooms had not been installed.  Lehrkind, surprised at the question, informed the Council the installation had been held off by staff pending a decision by the Council’s on how to use the east wing. In February she had presented plans and specifics, requesting these be provided to the Council.  The Arts Center has reserved funding to fully comply with providing the needed restroom access via a lift or a ramp.

Weiler, who has a disability, spoke of the importance of having disabled restroom access in the building. The Americans with Disability Act requires access in new or  remodeled public facilities.

Because of the high demand for use of the space and conflicting opinions, the Council attempted to reconcile proposals by asking the staff to meet with the Arts Center leadership and attempt to work out a plan to satisfy both the City’s and the Arts Center’s concerns.   Action on the matter was deferred until further information is available.

One Response to “Council Defers Decision on Use of 801 Magnolia”

  1. City Council actually requested revenue projections for a pre-K program run out of 801 but none were provided. Revenue from this space was a consideration raised by staff in earlier reports.

    City Council also requested a list of current programs run out of the Recreation Center on Hillside that would be more compatible with adult center use of 801 but that list also was not provided.

    All parties agree that multi-use programming is the best use for the space. The crux of the matter is whether pre-K and adult use of the space can practically be achieved. Most pre-K space in town is dedicated to single use and daily conversion of a pre-K space to afternoon use by other groups seems impractical. Staff estimates $125 – 150K to fix up 801 for pre-K use. If some existing programs at the Recreation Center were moved into 801, could the Recreation Center be upgraded to expand it’s pre-K program? Hopefully this option will be considered by city staff.

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