City commissioners now have a plan to maintain the current aspects of City Auditorium (also known as Peace Memorial Auditorium) for consideration.
Officials from Bruce McMillan Architects presented this information Tuesday during a work session between city commissioners and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
A previous plan involved removing the stage and seating area to add another basketball court and offices for the Parks and Recreation department. The estimated cost was $2.95 million.
The plan presented Tuesday had an estimated cost of around $3.86 million — $1.78 million for the Parks and Recreation office expansion and more than $2 million for the city auditorium.
Under the alternative, the Parks and Recreation office would still move from 1101 Fremont St. in City Park to City Hall, but it would be housed in a 7,500-square-foot addition built on the north side of City Hall.
The alternative auditorium plan would renovate the stage and seating instead of removing it.
This plan took shape after members of the community, including a number of veterans, spoke out against removing the auditorium stage, which was built to be a war memorial.
Resident Randi Dale said it saddens her to think that the stage and permanent seating might be taken out.
She said the stage has been used recently by Northview Elementary students and a K-State fraternity.
“This stage is awesome,” Dale said. “Why do we want to give up a stage that can hold 60 men standing across singing White Christmas?”
Mayor John Matta said keeping the stage would require private fundraising to make up the cost difference between the original plan and the alternative.
He said the parks office move would be, in essence, held hostage until officials know whether the funds would come through.
“If we choose to go with the new, more expensive plan because we think they can raise the money and they don’t do it, we’re on the hook for it,” Matta said.
Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said he considers the two projects to be separate conversations.
He said the Parks and Recreation move to the north side of City Hall can happen without making a decision on the auditorium.
“Whatever is happening in the auditorium has to have a life of its own,” Hilgers said.
World War II veteran Jim Sharp wondered why a private fundraiser should be necessary considering it was the city’s responsibility to take care of the stage.
“I’m not sure you should be loading this on the patriotic and military organizations and veterans organizations,” he said. “It should have been maintained.”
Commissioner Wynn Butler said he considered the historic discussion “a big red herring.”
He said he viewed the entire building as the memorial, not just the stage.
“People have gone off to use that as an excuse to not make viable use of the space,” he said. “That’s my personal opinion. I’m not trying to insult any veterans. I am a veteran.”
Members of the two boards discussed what would be the best use for the “living memorial.”
“The two courts would be used more than the stage because there are stages in other places that can be rented,” said advisory board member Marcia Rozell.
Advisory board chair Linda Teener said the public has more need for courts.
“As I look at what’s happened in our community through the years, stages have disappeared,” she said. “Why? I would assume because people aren’t using stages or are using portable stages for flexibility for other types of things.”
Others advocated for keeping the stage.
Commissioner Karen McCulloh said it’s important to have balance since “not everybody in this world wants to play ball.”
“It’s not being used because it’s in terrible condition, and there’s no air conditioning,” she said. “We heard several months ago from a number of groups who would like to use it.”
Commissioner Usha Reddi said Northview students’ use of the stage is an example of the future use that could happen after renovations.
“A lot of people may not even know about it,” she said. “A lot of our elementary schools do not have a stage. I think this would be used well.”