Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Effort continues to transform lumberyard to arts center

Diane Niehoff, president of the Lumberyard Arts Center Project, looks at the inside of the building in downtown Baldwin City. The LACP continues its fundraising efforts to restore the historic building.

Diane Niehoff, president of the Lumberyard Arts Center Project, looks at the inside of the building in downtown Baldwin City. The LACP continues its fundraising efforts to restore the historic building.

December 19, 2007

Mostly, this old lumberyard still looks like a lumberyard.

Aged wooden beams crisscross the large room where trucks used to drive through to load up with supplies. Handwritten signs still hang, advertising the price of lumber.

Laura Dickinson has a vision for a day when paintings will line these walls, children will learn to dance and musicians will stand on stage in front of appreciative audiences.

But that's not the case. Not yet.

"It's hard to be patient," Dickinson says. "You just want to hurry up and get it done, but it doesn't work that way. If you want this to be qualitative, there has to be an evolution."

That evolution - turning the defunct lumberyard into the Lumberyard Arts Center - may have been slow-going. But Dickinson, who is vice president of the center's board of directors, and Diane Niehoff, who is the president, say they expect 2008 to mark a major push toward getting the project done.

And, at least for now, that means one thing: money.

"The primary goal for the next year will be fundraising," Niehoff says. "It's one of the things we've been putting off."

Phased approach

The lumberyard, 718 High St., was built in 1914 and housed the Ives-Hartley Lumber Co. The lumberyard closed in 2002, leaving the 8,000-square-foot building empty.

It's owned by Baldwin State Bank, though the center's organization has a contract to purchase it once half the funds for renovation have been raised.

"We're into saving old things," Niehoff says of her committee. "Once it had closed, there was talk of it becoming offices. But we wanted to do something to keep downtown alive and vibrant, and to preserve the old building."

At first, the effort was led by the Baldwin Community Arts Council, but a separate nonprofit organization was formed last year.

The first stage of the project - expected to cost around $550,000 - includes constructing a gallery, classrooms, restrooms and offices that will house the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce. It also will renovate the center area of the building to be a commons space that can be rented out for events.

A second phase, expected to cost an additional $500,000, would add a 164-seat theater in the back of the building.

Architectural plans were completed by Paul Werner Architects of Lawrence. They were based, in part, by suggestions made several years ago by architecture students at Kansas State University.

So far, about $200,000 has been raised, including grants from the Douglas County Community Foundation and Rice Foundation. Other events have slowly raised more money.

"We've come to the realization that we'll have to do this in phases," Niehoff says. "We're not raising money fast enough. But there has been shown there's a real need for this project."

Moving forward

Jim Niehoff, Diane's husband and construction manager of the project, says the old lumberyard appears to be in good condition.

"We won't really know until we start tearing the walls out," he says.

The end building, Diane Niehoff says, will blend the character of the old building with the functions of a modern art center.

"We want to keep it as much like the old building as possible," she says.

Dickinson, the board's vice president, says she thinks Baldwin City has a large number of artistic activities going on for a community its size. Often, she says, people have to drive to Lawrence to get the classes they want.

"People get locked into thinking it's just painting and photography," she says. "It would offer so many opportunities. To me, there are no boundaries to what can be offered once it's up and running. It will provide a great launch place for enhancing what the already-existing arts in the community and a place for the community to grow."

Niehoff says the board has been focused on other tasks - like organizing occasional classes and starting the nonprofit organization - have captured too much of the board's attention.

Now, she says, 2008 can be the time to get the project going in earnest.

"I'm confident," Niehoff says.

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