City Council wants more answers on Abernathy Arts Center programming
Sandy Springs City Council has said it does not want any buildings at the Abernathy Arts Center to be demolished until a plan is finalized for its future programming.
Sandy Springs accepted Fulton County’s donation to the Abernathy Arts Center on September 21, 2021. Deputy City Manager Dave Wells said the deed was ultimately transferred by Fulton County to the city June 6.
Now Sandy Springs officials are considering future artistic uses for the site, as well as whether to renovate or demolish existing buildings on the four-acre property.
“I guess before we spend millions of dollars here, we need to better understand what we’re going to use this facility for,” said councilman John Paulson, who chaired the meeting as Mayor Rusty’s acting mayor. Paul’s absence.
The arts center site includes an annex building and three older buildings constructed between 1940 and 1945.
The city hired Menefee Architecture to assess existing buildings and learned that renovating one of the oldest stone buildings would be very expensive, Wells said. The classrooms inside are too small. One of the challenges is parking, and the only place a parking lot could be built is on this site.
He offered staff recommendations on how the city uses the $996,000 available for the project:
· $350,000 estimated to hire an architect for design fees and feasibility/program studies, which is expected to take six to nine months. Actual construction would begin in fiscal year 2024.
· $158,000 estimated to demolish the stone art and storage building.
· $336,000 to carry out work on the site, including repairing the detention, which is expected to take three to four months.
The feasibility study would help determine exactly what type of space is needed for arts programming and whether an addition to the new annex building would be adequate, or whether they should tear down all the buildings and build a new arts center.
Paulson said it would be nice to go ahead and fix the detention basin, but the city should take a phased approach with the arts center project.
“Can we call on the architect without having the usage study done? Because the architect is going to design something based on what the programming will be and we don’t have a partner for the program yet, unless you’re using Spruill,” Paulson said.
Paulson was referring to the Spruill Center for the Arts in Dunwoody, which Sandy Springs recreation and parks director Mike Perry said he visited for ideas.
Council member Jody Reichel asked if the staff had studied the possibility of demolishing all the buildings and building a brand new arts center with enough space for the desired programming.
Wells said none of the buildings were in great condition. The stone building, which was built in the 1930s and converted into an arts center in the 1970s, has accessibility and ADA handicap code issues, outdated building systems, and needs major structural repairs.
“Can we do something to try and make something of the classes for the summer?” asked Councilwoman Melissa Mular.
During the public comment portion of the city council meeting, Melanie Couchman, co-founder of Sandy Springs Together, supported the idea of immediate arts programming.
“We realize getting the Fulton County act has set us back, but we’re not losing momentum,” she said.
She suggested holding classes in the annex building before demolition or renovation. Other sites she suggested include the Lost Corner Preserve at 7300 Brandon Mill Road, Heritage Sandy Springs before the Holocaust Museum moved there, or Hammond Park.
Resident Tricia Thompson said the stone buildings at the arts center site are “iconic” and served as a gateway into the city long before City Springs was built. She suggested that the city immediately use the new building for arts programming and budget for the work needed to renovate the stone buildings.
Deputy City Manager Kristin Smith said she and Perry had conversations about offering interim programs. They spoke with Fulton County, which wants to continue providing some services from the Abernathy facility. Smith said the city is also looking at ways to bring arts programs to other locations, such as Hammond Park.
“If Fulton County wants to move on and continue the arts programming…why are we allowing them to give us the building so we can spend $5 million so they can continue teaching?” asked council member Tibby DeJulio.
He suggested the city let Fulton County spend $5 million to renovate buildings and continue to educate Fulton County and Sandy Springs residents.
“We don’t need Fulton County to come back here and do this. They wanted to get out of the arts business. They got out of the arts business,” Paulson said. “We took over. Now let’s see what we’re going to do with that.