Friday, June 30, 2006

Edifice Complexes (and Complex Edifices)

June 30

There was actually a story in the paper a few days ago about the possibility of the fund-raising group falling short of their goal to build a $15.5 million performing arts center out near the new high school. You see, the first plan was for a $4 million building, which soon was doubled to be priced at $8 million. As the plans for the building grew, of course the building itself would have to grow, and by now, four years later, construction prices along with redesign for more amenities have bloated the budget so that the low bid of $15.5 million is $2 million more than it was two weeks ago.

The County School Board, never too comfortable with this project, is scheduling meetings to determine whether the cost can be reduced. Everyone is in a quandary.

Why would the school board not be comfortable with the project? For one thing, there is no drama department at Fairhope High School. The new performing arts center would house a 2,000 seat theatre, a number of arts classrooms, a ton of expensive technical equipment – but no resident theater or dance company. To justify the expense of utilities and maintenance, I can see only one way for this to go: A concert space for traveling showbiz acts, like Jeff Foxworthy and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, that sort of cultural thing.

When communities get excited about getting a new building, a new building gets built. I have little doubt that the extraordinarily talented fundraising members of the Fairhope Educational Enrichment Foundation will be able to come up with money to get the building finished. But as for now, as a city council member told me yesterday, "It's off the table."

In the meantime, all over Fairhope big buildings are springing up. A new library of mammoth proportions for such a small village has risen where the potato shed used to be. It will fill the block, but for a tiny niche that was cut into the property a few years ago for a little historic preservation -- the saving of a shabby old cottage, now known as the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts. The house is used for a temporary home for local and visiting writers -- I've never been clear on what the mission of that particular project was. It's possible it will be declared a success and the cottage razed for some new addition to the library at some time in the not-so-distant future.

There is hue and cry about the new library, too. The project started when a committee made it clear that the Fairhope library would be inadequate for the coming needs of the growing town, and money began to be raised. An architect came on board. Designs, reflecting the historic period of Spanish revival championed in the 1920's by a couple of local contractors spotted the trend in Florida and decided to build similar abodes in Fairhope. The original Spanish style was applied to boxy little bungalows, including Craftsman details such as built-in bookcases and inglenooks. The new library looks like the City Hall of Madrid, except that it's probably bigger.

All this prompted an extremely ingenious suggestion yesterday in "Sound Off," the local newspaper column that allows a voice to the people. The column runs short, anonymous comments about the local situation. I swear I didn't phone this one in, but I almost wish I had. The suggestion was, since they can't get money to build the new performing arts center at the high school (and new classrooms are needed there, which should be a priority), and everybody hates the new library (and the old one is still functioning quite well), why not revamp the building, before it's finished, and turn it into a performing arts center instead? It is full of meeting rooms, media centers, computer rooms, etc., where all a library basically needs is books.

The idea is so simple, of course, that it will never work. It would require the superimposition of common sense over committee. All that pre-planning would be overruled by the reality that this is a better idea.

It would require facing the fact that you're not going to turn Fairhope High into a School of the Arts by building a huge auditorium next to it -- we're in Baldwin County, in Alabama, and there just isn't a need for a huge performing arts high school. We could, on the other hand, benefit by a multi-use arts facility -- and it would be great to have it right in town instead of out by the highway near the new school.

As for the library, what's wrong with one half the size? How about working with the existing space, or even demolishing that building (a converted supermarket, not a historic structure) and replacing it with a more appropriate structure of a somewhat smaller size than the thing sitting over where the potato shed was?

The performing arts center has enough money to buy out the library building, redesign it into performance spaces, and come out with some pocket change. I wish I knew who called "Sound Off." I'd sign up to be on that committee.


Benedict S. said...

The phoned in revision sounds like a great idea, but if that fails, the cost of the performing arts building could be reduced by the "Fenway Approach." The ballpark on Boston is the smallest in the majors, not only to the left field fence but in seating capacity as well. The result is that they sell out every game, most of the seats being subscribed by season ticket holders. Prices per seat also go up as demand increases. And as you know, it's better to perform to a full house than to a flock of empty seats. Two-thousand seats sounds a bit much for a community of 50,000 (counting Daphne and the metroplolis of Montrose). Perhaps 1125 would be just the right number.

It may be argued that they have to allow for expansion. But Fenway Park was built somewhere around 1915, and even though it has expanded a trifle in seating capacity it is nowhere near the size of the parks in much smaller cities . . . and the Red Sox is probably the most financially viable franchise -- aside from the dammed Yankees -- in the major leagues.

Also, you might remind the library folks that the future of books in paper form is limited. Less space is needed for the digital books of the future. So, both buildings could benefit from a better analysis of needs.

Benedict S. said...

BTW. I love the title.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Dontcha think I was reaching, just a bit?

Benedict S. said...

Reaching? Who cares? "But a [woman's] reach should exceed [her] grasp, ot what's a heaven for." [A very useful quotation, and I doubt that Browning -- dead as he is -- will object to the substitutions.]

Finding Fair Hope said...

That's got to be one of the most pointless comments in the history of blogdom, but let it stand.