ALPHARETTA, Ga. – After months of debate over funding and cost overruns, the Alpharetta City Council approved a $3.35 million contract Monday to convert the old Fulton County Library into a municipal arts center.
The action came just weeks after city leaders had called on the project architect to draw up plans for lower-cost options.
The Alpharetta Arts Center Project has been on the drawing board for more than three years when the city acquired the old library on Mayfield Road from Fulton County in a land swap. Local voters approved $1.5 million in bond funding last year to convert the building into an arts center, but the project has accumulated more expense than anticipated.
City officials, particularly Mayor David Belle Isle, grew wary of the project expenses and guided the council to study less costly options for the center.
That suggestion drew more support when the city learned in June that its anticipated tax revenues for 2018 would likely fall short of expectations because of a property assessment freeze passed by Fulton County.
Alpharetta Finance Director Tom Harris said Monday he still hasn’t received a final accounting of property values from Fulton County.
Architect Hank Houser told the council at the July 24 workshop that when construction bids came in, they showed earlier estimates were off target, sometimes by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Concrete work, for example, was estimated at $60,000, but bids for the work came in at $200,000.
Houser attributed some of the discrepancies to climbing costs in materials and labor as well as flaws in the building revealed during closer inspection.
Houser presented four options for consideration Monday, with price tags running from $2 million to $3.35 million. As the price went down, so did the amenities, such as reducing the quality of countertops in studios, using less expensive materials for walkways, piping and handrails and eliminating windows.
Two members of the arts community addressed the council about the cuts proposed in the project.
“This would be a great place for people to go to after work, just to relieve stress,” said Sandy Barth.
Barth added that the city has already put so much into the government complex on Main Street.
Wendi Schutt, who serves as cultural liaison on the Alpharetta Parks and Rec Commission, said she’d like to see the city build an arts center residents can be proud of.
“We don’t want this to be a half-baked, shoddy building,” she said. “We want it to match the beauty of the downtown area.”
With virtually no debate, the City Council approved the full-scale plan for $3.35 million, which includes studios for painting and crafts, a blackbox theater for small-scale performances, a media studio and a gallery space near the entrance.
The vote was 6-1, with the mayor casting the lone dissent.
Following the vote, Councilman Donald Mitchell, who had championed the project from its inception, said he was grateful the arts community now could look forward to a facility in which the community could be proud.