BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council members say they want to know when – and how, exactly – the Colonial Arts Center’s years-long renovation will be completed.
At city council’s meeting Aug. 2, several city council members, including David McCauley, Pam Bucklew and city recorder Randy Sanders, said city officials need to sit down and hash out a concrete plan specifying when the renovation of the community-oriented arts center will be finished and whose job, exactly, it is to finish that work at 48 East Main Street.
The city purchased the historic Colonial Theatre for $60,000 from property owner Catherine Cuppari in January 2017 when it had most recently housed a string of bars. (You can read more about the theater’s history here or the Colonial Arts Center Board here.) In addition, the Colonial Arts Center board operates as a publicly funded entity under the City of Buckhannon’s general fund, and its manager is a city employee, similar to the Stockert Youth & Community Center.
As the sixth anniversary of the city buying the CAC property approaches, McCauley, who was mayor at the time Buckhannon bought the property, said he was antsy to get the project done. Following public works director Jerry Arnold’s report Tuesday, he asked Arnold to estimate what percentage of the renovation is finished.
“Do you have any estimation as to where we are with the Colonial Theatre, what percentage of completion?” McCauley asked. “I hear numbers bandied about, like 80 percent or 85 percent; do you think that’s about where we are?”
Arnold said, yes, about 80-85 percent of the work in the space itself is complete, but there are still other decisions to be made and work that will need to be done in-house or contracted out.
“Of course, there are still decisions to be made as far as seating and that kind of thing, but as far as completing the space, that’s about correct,” Arnold said.
McCauley asked if city employees from the Street Department had returned to the space to collaborate with the contractor on the project, but Arnold said there was currently no contractor in the arts center, and that Street Department employees are busy with sidewalk installation while the weather is warmer.
“Right now, we have just a very small presence from the city’s side and no contractor,” Arnold told McCauley. “There’s no contractor in the theatre at this time.”
“So, is it incumbent upon our city employees then to get back in there?” McCauley replied. “Is that the next step? Help me understand those dynamics.”
Arnold said he would take whatever direction the council gave him based on what infrastructure projects they wanted to prioritize.
“Well, again, that’s dependent upon you all,” Arnold said. “If you want us in there, we’ve got to pull [employees] off the sidewalk projects, so really the direction I have right now is that on nice days we’re outside working, and on nasty days we’re inside working, and I’ve tried to keep a small presence. Our main priority right now is getting sidewalks in. Contractors, like laborers right now, are hard to one, secure, and two, retain.”
Councilman Jack Reger said the city shouldn’t “rob Peter to pay Paul.”
“The theatre needs to be completed, but we have to remind ourselves that we have two jars, we have a Peter and a Paul,” Reger remarked. “Peter’s the theatre, Paul’s the city issues, streets, water etc. etc. If you rob one, well … Here’s my point: what’s our priority? Is it the needs of the city or the needs of the theater? That’s what I’m throwing out.”
Arnold reiterated that “whatever council and the mayor (Robbie Skinner) directs” is what he will do.
City recorder Randy Sanders said city officials and employees should partner up to establish a scope of work and timeline for completing the renovations.
“It’s a balance, especially with as much rain as we’ve had. It would be good if we had a good plan in place,” Sanders said. “The Colonial Arts Center Board and folks working with the Colonial Arts Center just need to sit down and see what kind of plan of action is reasonable to take. Yes, we want to see the theater completed, but we’re not going to stop sidewalk production. We’re not going to stop [addressing] the critical issues that good weather allows us to [address].”
Sanders also said city officials would consider what Arnold had to say about the street department’s manpower and “what’s real today” as far as its capability to work inside the arts center. Arnold noted that for some jobs, such as specialty tiling, enlisting a contractor might be more efficient, and Sanders agreed.
“It’s incumbent upon us to have a quality scope of work to hand the contractors coming in,” the city recorder said. “We just have to have a very good scope of work, the objectives that have to be completed.”
McCauley disagreed with Reger’s earlier comments, saying the arts center is now part of the city.
“The Colonial Theatre is the City of Buckhanon; that is as much now the city as is the Stockert Youth & Community Center or the Public Safety Complex or the Charles W. Gibson Public Library,” he said. “I mean, it is part of the city.”
McCauley asked Arnold if he was in charge of the Colonial Arts Center’s restoration.
“Are you now sort of the superintendent of the Colonial Arts Center project?” he asked.
Arnold responded, “That has not been identified as my role at this point.”
McCauley agreed with Sanders that city officials should come up with a concrete plan with specific calendar dates and deadlines.
“So, maybe we need to have some more conversation then about that to get this done because gosh, it’s been … we’re coming up fast on six years and 85 percent is like a teaser,” McCauley said. “It’s like it’s almost done and we don’t know when it will be done, but shouldn’t we know when it’s going to be done? It just seems like we ought to be working on a calendar and by January 1, we ought to have that thing pretty well wrapped up.”
“If it was up to me, we would have a schedule,” Arnold replied. “We would welcome completion of the Colonial Theatre.”
Council agreed to identify which jobs city employees can complete and which need to be contracted out.
During council comments, councilwoman Pam Bucklew said she, too, was eager for the arts center to open.
“I do believe we need to get the theater finished no matter how we have to do it,” she said. “We need to get it finished so we can start getting some money brought back in. It’s going to be a hub for the community. We’ve got other projects coming and I think we need to finish a couple of things before we go on to others.”