Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager
Bill Webster, Interim Director of Parks and Recreation
Response to a Petition Concerning the Lincoln Art Center Lease
February 26, 2007
The attached resolution would authorize the Mayor, on behalf of the Council, to request that the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Board of Education extend the lease of the Lincoln Art Center that expires on December 31, 2007 until June 30, 2009.
The resolution also contains authorization for the Manager to report back with recommendations on how best to proceed to accomplish a long-term solution.
In 1976 the Town executed an agreement with the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools that provided for the lease of certain school facilities to the Town for a period of 30 years. The Town agreed to expend funds to pay for construction and renovation of facilities and to provide maintenance of some facilities. One of the facilities covered in the lease agreement is the Lincoln Arts Center on Merritt Mill Road.
In the early 1990s the Town returned about half of the leased Art Center building to the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools for use as a Head Start program facility.
On November 4, 2006, the Town received a petition requesting that the pottery program be continued and expanded.
The current agreement is scheduled to end on December 31, 2007.
The Lincoln Art Center is a 2,600 square-foot facility located on Merritt Mill Road that is used by the Parks and Recreation Department for youth and adult pottery classes. The building contains enough space for three kilns, eight pottery wheels, table space, drying shelves, and storage. The building was specially modified to allow venting of gases during kiln firings.
Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools staff members have informally advised the Department that they plan to take the Lincoln Art Center back when the current agreement expires. Formal discussions with City Schools Assistant Superintendent Steve Scroggs concerning renewal of the lease agreement started in February 2006. He reported that the school system plans to use the current pottery studio space for offices of staff who currently work in leased space elsewhere.
In October 2006, Assistant Superintendent Scroggs reported that the school system would know at the end of January 2007 if the space would be needed at the end of the agreement period. He recently confirmed that the schools staff recommendation would be to not extend the lease.
While waiting for a report from Assistant Superintendent Scroggs we have been investigating some options for replacement of the Art Center. We have been unable to identify any short-term solutions that wouldn’t negatively impact other program areas. We believe that we can identify a number of options for Council consideration. However, preliminary indications are that the options with the fewest issues would require more time than the current December 31, 2007 deadline. We believe that the first step could be to ask for an extension of the lease date while we work on a permanent solution.
Because we have known for several years that the school system intends to take over the facility, we have already considered some alternate short-term locations for the pottery program. Use of any of these facilities would involve some financial and programmatic costs. The potential facilities we have been able to identify include:
Existing Parks and Recreation Facilities: We have considered all of our existing facilities and have concluded that they are either not suitable or that another space would have to be found for their existing uses. Facilities evaluated include the Community Center, Hargraves Center, and the Plant Road administrative office.
The facility with the most promise is the garage area of the Plant Road office. However, that space is currently being used for most of the Department’s day-to-day work and storage needs. Conversion to an arts facility would disrupt the operations of most other department functions.
Other Town Facilities: We have contacted all Town Departments to see if any space exists that could be used for the pottery program. No Department has reported unused space. We considered using one of the buildings from the current Public Works area on Municipal Drive, but concluded that the building was in too poor condition to successfully move and use. In addition, regulatory and site preparation issues related to moving the structure to a new site appeared to be complicated, costly, and time consuming.
Leased Facilities: The Town leases several buildings to other groups that could possibly be used for an arts center. We have investigated the basement of the Post Office on Franklin Street, the basement of the Chapel Hill Museum, the basement of the Hargraves Center, and the Sport Art Gymnastics building on Homestead Road. All of these facilities are currently leased for other public purposes and most have physical constraints that would make it difficult to convert their uses to a pottery studio.
The building that would be the most suited is the Sport Art Gymnastics building on Homestead Road. However, we believe that the building is already small for a gymnastics school and would not be large enough for use as both a gymnastics school and an art studio. We believe that the gymnastics school is an important facility that currently provides a wide array of programs for youth and young adults. If we were to move the pottery program into the building, Orange County would lose its only full-service gymnastics school. The gymnastics school currently provides programs for more people than the current pottery program at no cost to the Town.
Other Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools Facilities: We have asked if other school space might be available for a community program, especially the existing pottery spaces in the high schools. We have been told by school staff that this is not possible due to their own space and time demands.
Properties Owned by the Town of Carrboro and Orange County: These governmental units considered our request for space, but have concluded that they have no buildings, with one possible exception, that would work for such a purpose that have not already been committed to other purposes. See Considerations for Long-Term Solutions below.
We have identified a need for a Town-owned arts facility since the loss of the Umstead Center building by fire in the 1990s. That building was the Parks and Recreation Department’s primary facility for meetings, dance, exercise, martial arts, and other programs requiring a large space.
In 2000, the Town initiated a conceptual plan process for the Aquatics Center at Homestead Park. The citizen committee report recommended that the building include an arts center. The current design includes the capability for an expansion that could be an art center.
In 2002 the Council adopted the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which recommended that the art center lease be renegotiated. The report also recommends that if the lease cannot be renegotiated a new facility should be provided. The report recommends that two new community centers be built that could include space for arts programs.
We have identified three specific longer-range solutions that the Council could consider:
If the Council agrees, we would work with the Mayor’s office to prepare a letter for the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City School Board requesting an extension of the lease.
We would also report back in April with a list of possible options that would include tentative time lines required for completion and cost estimates. Areas of consideration would likely include:
Staff Recommendation: We recommend that the Council adopt the attached resolution which would authorize the Mayor, on behalf of the Council, to request that the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Board of Education extend the lease of the Lincoln Art Center that expires on December 31, 2007 until June 30, 2009. The resolution also contains authorization for the Manager to report back with recommendations on how best to proceed to accomplish a long-term solution.