Stage gets informal approval

By Bryan Richardson

After a year of debate, advocates received word Tuesday the stage at City Auditorium, also known as Peace Memorial Auditorium, will stay.

City commissioners didn’t vote on the issue, but the majority gave verbal support to fixing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in the auditorium for an estimated $803,640, not including an additional 8 to 12 percent in professional design fees.

Tuesday effectively ended the talks of moving the Department of Parks and Recreation office into the auditorium.

Commissioners also provided verbal support for a $1.8 million project moving the office from City Park to an addition to be built on the north side of City Hall.

“We’ve been arguing for a year,” Mayor Wynn Butler said. “To me, this pretty much resolves it.”

Last year, the commission considered a plan which involved removing the auditorium’s stage and seating area to add another basketball court and offices for the parks and recreation department. The estimated cost was $2.95 million.

This new course of action came after members of the community, including veterans, voiced their opposition to removing the stage from the auditorium built to be a war memorial.

Commissioner John Matta maintained his stance against keeping the stage, preferring the original proposal.

He said that proposal leaves the city with a finished product, while the proposal discussed Tuesday relies on “betting we can get private funding.”

“It was the most economical,” he said of the previous proposal. “From everything we could see, it fits the need of the community the best. It also doesn’t take up the front of our building, and keeps us confined in the space we already have today.”

While Matta stayed put in his viewpoint, Mayor Wynn Butler softened his position.

Butler said he still thought last year’s proposal was the best option based on data that showed the basketball court was used more than the stage, but he “could live with” the option supported Tuesday.

“This is the second best option in my mind, but only if no money is committed to the stage in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Commissioner Usha Reddi said she supported the stage staying because the city is addressing its sports facility needs through a consultant.

“It’s good to have HVAC in there,” she said. “It would benefit both the sports and the arts.”

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said doing work on the auditorium’s HVAC system is a good start.

“Then we’re going to turn to the people who think this is important, and they’ll raise money for it,” she said.

The stage is staying with the understanding that private funds would cover any other renovations.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich’s support hinged upon seeing a desire by residents to raise funds.

“The idea is this is something you feel strongly enough about to keep it preserved,” he said.

Kathy Dzewaltowski, Manhattan/Riley County Preservation Alliance president, said there was confusion on how to proceed with fundraising prior to Tuesday because of the lack of clarity about the status of the stage.

“What we heard from administration is they need more direction still from the commission before they’re interested in us being involved with the improvements,” she said.

McCulloh said partnerships to improve the auditorium could be possible through organizations such as the Caroline Peine Charitable Foundation and the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation.

City administration presented more than $1 million in additional work that could be done including the audio, video and sound system and lighting.

Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said the actual cost put into the stage is still up for debate.

“It could be $50,000 or it could be $1 million,” he said.

“It depends on the quality and the quantity the individual group or the city decides it would like to see as improvements.”

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