After almost three hours of debate that at times became contentious, council members agreed to move forward with discussions to renovate the Old Bedford School into a center for the arts.
City officials met to discuss different views about relocating performing arts groups because of upcoming construction at the Boys Ranch Park.
Council members told city manager Brian Bosshardt that they wanted him to reach out to the Onstage Theater and the Arts Council Northeast to talk about relocation options in Bedford.
The council said they want to see plans to renovate the Old Bedford School for $5.5 million and to complete the Boys Ranch Park makeover for $64.5 million that will be done in one phase.
Construction on the park is scheduled to start in January.
The Onstage Theater and the Arts Council Northeast use buildings at the Boys Ranch Park, but work will begin soon to completely renovate the facility with a multi-generational center, ballfields, and aquatics.
The project is funded by a $70 million bond package that voters approved in November of 2017. Ten million was set aside to potentially be used for the arts.
However, there were no plans in place to relocate arts groups during the park renovation which angered several council members. The arts organizations were also upset, and launched email and social media campaigns last week.
During Thursday’s special meeting, council members Amy Sabol, Dan Cogan and Ruth Culver were adamant that the city should help the arts groups find a location.
“We’ve had these people for 35 years,” Sabol said of the Onstage Theater.
“I don’t think this city gets what these groups bring to the community. I am furious; I am emotional about this,” Sabol said.
Councilman Michael Boyter said it is time to have a reasonable conversation with the arts groups about displacement plans, and added that he would support the plan if the city reaches out to the nonprofits.
“We need to have a hard conversation with them about the Old Bedford School,” he said.
Council member Roger Fisher said that the arts groups were aware of the Boys Ranch Park construction and should have worked on plans to relocate.
“I don’t think we’ve done anything here that shows a lack of commitment to the arts,” Fisher said.