A decades-long vision for a Community Education and Performing Arts Center on the Garrett College campus is moving forward.
Gov. Larry Hogan included more than $11 million of state funding for the project in the FY 2020 and FY 2021 miscellaneous capital program. Architectural and engineering design work can take place in the 2019 fiscal year with prior authorized state funding and a local match from the Garrett County Board of Commissioners.
“A lot of people have waited a long time for this day,” said Garrett College’s president, Dr. Richard Midcap “And a lot of people played key roles in this outcome, starting with Sen. [George] Edwards, Delegate [Wendell] Beitzel and our county commissioners. Gov. Hogan made this a priority when the county, the college and our legislative delegation all told his staff this was our top funding priority. This project is being realized because of all of those local collaborations.”
While the construction funding will have to be formally approved in the 2020 and 2021 budgets, both county and college officials plan to move forward with the architecture and engineering work in FY 2019, which begins July 1, to be ready for construction in the following fiscal year.
Edwards said the $15.47 million project will address long-recognized arts and business community needs.
“This is the only county in the state that does not have a performing arts center,” said Edwards, who requested that Hogan consider an alternative funding strategy that would make the project feasible. “This facility will address the needs of the college, our public schools, and organizations like the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival that bring cultural programming to the county. It will also provide classroom space critical to expanding the college’s continuing education mission.”
The state originally approved the facility in 2016 as a community college capital project, which would have required a 50 percent match — more than $7 million — from local funding.
While the county commissioners notified the college last year that the county would not be able to fund half of the project’s cost, they began working with the college, local legislators and the governor’s office in an attempt to find another way to finance the facility.
“A 50-percent match was just not realistic, given we’re the fourth-poorest county in the state based on median family income,” commission President Paul Edwards said. “But we knew there was a need for this project, and we wanted to find a way to make it happen.”
“I commend everyone that worked so hard to bring this project to fruition,” Beitzel said. “The governor heard our need and found a creative strategy to address it. We appreciate his responsiveness to this need.”
County Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh said the project addresses a long-standing community challenge.
“I’m pleased we are able to deal with both the need for community education space as well as the county’s lack of a performing arts center,” Hinebaugh said. “Garrett College has a thriving Continuing Education and Workforce Development operation, which this project will enhance with expanded and upgraded facilities.”
County Commissioner Larry Tichnell is also pleased to see the project come to fruition.
“Efforts to build a performing arts center go back at least 20 years,” Tichnell said. “Many people have worked to keep this project alive over the years.”
Those efforts led to Hogan shifting the project from the community college capital program to the miscellaneous capital program, which does not mandate a 50-percent local match. The governor’s proposal reduced the local commitment to $3.875 million, which will be paid out in a multi-year plan.
“The public school system and the college collaborate on a number of programs and initiatives. This project will have an impact on performing arts for the school system, the college and the community and allow us to further expand our collaborative efforts,” Superintendent of Schools Barbara Baker said, who noted both Northern Garrett and Southern Garrett high schools, as well as the middle and elementary schools, will have access to the facilities.
Mary Callis, GLAF’s executive director, said her organization and the county’s entire arts community are energized about what the facility will mean for the community.
“A community performing arts venue will provide a home for GLAF performances as well as other performance partners throughout the county,” she said. “CEPAC will provide the space and technical facilities to bring a wider genre of performances to the Garrett County community.
“In addition to GLAF, this venue will be centrally located so that most performing arts organizations will be able to access the space,” Callis added. “Along with Garrett College's outstanding security and maintenance staff, this venue will meet the complete needs of any organization wanting to produce a dance, theater or music production.”
Julie Yoder, Garrett College’s dean of continuing education and workforce development, said CEPAC’s classroom space will fulfill a variety of needs.
“Continuing Education and Workforce Development will offer courses, workshops and training programs in that space to support the professional development needs of the business community,” Yoder said. “In addition, personal-interest courses, ranging from arts and music to history and recreation, will provide enrichment opportunities for the Garrett County community.”
Midcap said he has already talked with the county commissioners, Baker and Callis about creating a broad-based design team to ensure the facility will meet the county’s wide range of needs.
“We’re going to design, build and eventually operate this facility as a shared venture,” Midcap said. “We’re very good at collaboration in this county, and this will definitely be a collaborative effort.”