Amendment approved for auditorium leaves parks and rec in limbo

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment to the design contract for renovation of Peace Memorial Auditorium, while leaving a proposed move for Parks and Recreation offices in limbo.

In the process, the commission added $39,650 in consulting fees for studying alternatives sparked by the auditorium debate.

Bruce McMillan, the architect hired for the design, said $12,100 of those fees would be spent looking at the cost to update and renovate the stage.

Public outcry against the removal of the stage had caused commissioners to consider various options.

Commissioners Rich Jankovich, Usha Reddi and Wynn Butler all agreed that they would only move forward if the auditorium upgrade stayed within the established budget of $2.95 million.

The problem is that the city planned to move Parks and Recreation into a space that would require removing the stage and permanent seating from the auditorium, and that putting the office somewhere else is likely to drive the renovation cost beyond the $2.95 million.

“It was kind of the goal all along,” Jankovich said of using those savings on the auditorium. “If we can’t do that, then it’s a dead horse.”

Butler said if the alternatives run the cost past $2.95 million, the matter should be put on the ballot as a bond issue.

He said if the (Parks and Recreation) offices were not moved, the city could not find the money for the Peace renovation without raising property taxes.

Butler said he wasn’t willing to make that decision, and preferred it be put on the election ballot.

He also said he asked citizens at the Sept. 2 commission meeting to seek private donations to “save the stage” if it were that important, and indicated he did not see any fund raising efforts over the past month “thus doubting that the majority of Manhattanites wanted to keep the stage. 

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said that just because people who wanted to save it might be in the minority, the city shouldn’t necessarily abandon the idea.

She said those who spoke out against removing the stage were passionate about it, and therefore the commission had an obligation to restore and renovate it for public use.

Audience members told commissioners that it is difficult to raise funds for the auditorium while the fate of the stage is still in limbo.

“It’s a little hard to fund raise when, well, maybe, maybe they’re going to save it,” said Kathy Dzewaltowski, president of Manhattan Riley County Preservation Alliance.

She said the alliance is willing to raise money, but would like to have a cost estimate and solid assurances from the city that the stage will remain.

McMillian said his proposal definitely would provide an estimate.

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