On June 4, Mayor John Matta and City Commissioners Wynn Butler, Usha Reddi and Rich Jankovich voted to trample on the graves of Riley County’s 101 Gold Star Veterans from World War II and dishonor 2,500 soldiers who returned by defacing the Peace Memorial Auditorium at City Hall.
This hallowed place is a living memorial to World War II veterans. Thank you, Commissioner Karen McCulloh, for voting against going forward with renovation. The defacing of the Living Peace Memorial Auditorium means extreme change, which does not meet the concept of the more than 2,500 voters in 1946 and the all-purpose auditorium finished in 1955. The concept was for an all-purpose area: stage and basketball court turned a big open area for a variety of events.
The raised seating on the wall will be ripped out and replaced with air-conditioned offices for Parks and Recreation. Then there would be no raised seating to watch basketball games. The large stage, which has held Veterans Day celebrations, professional singers, plays, dance recitals, dance companies, dances, pageants, 4-H events, craft shows and Parks and Recreation events, would be destroyed. Also, lockers and a second basketball court would be added. Even commissioners mentioned that a privately run sports complex could be built.
Most shocking is the projected 2.9 million cost. Two funds will be used to finance this. A $1.8 million reserve fund will be used for the renovation, leaving no money for repairs. The rest, $1.1 million, would be financed by the sale of bonds. Is our city slipping down the slope of bad risk to future investors? Is this the right financial climate to take big risks when the sequester is causing full-time workers to lose work hours.
I learned of the renovation was in the June 3 Mercury. Yet at a February 2013 commission meeting all five commissioners voted to spend a fortune to allow architect Bruce McMillan to draw up a set of designs. The excuse by four city commissioners was that only a few organizations rented the auditorium so we need to change the space.
The auditorium has not been rented often because of neglect. Modern audiences want to be comfortable. Air-conditioning would be a great improvement. I remember when the place was so full that people were standing against the wall. Put in air-conditioning and the crowds will return.
For years the stage lights were repaired, but not lately. Eight spotlights once hung and are a must to brighten the stage. On the stage there are two bars of red and blue lights, but there really should be three bars.
In the last year, all the stage spotlights were taken out. Why? Yes, new gym lights were needed, but not to fix the spotlights is outrageous. Why would anyone want to rent a dark stage?
Stop the destruction of the Peace Memorial Auditorium, the living memorial for World War II veterans. I urge citizens to call, write and email the City Commission to save and update the auditorium, not to destroy it.
Randi Dale lives at 2416 Rogers Blvd.