The Sandy Springs City Council said it doesn’t want any buildings at the Abernathy Arts Center torn down before a plan is finalized about its future programming.
Sandy Springs accepted Fulton County’s donation of the Abernathy Arts Center on Sept. 21, 2021. Deputy City Manager Dave Wells said the deed was finally transferred by Fulton County to the city on June 6.
Now Sandy Springs officials are looking at future art 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 get a better understanding of what it is we’re going to use this facility for,” said Councilmember John Paulson, who presided over the meeting as mayor pro tem in Mayor Rusty 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 the existing buildings and learned the renovation of one of the older, stone buildings would be very costly, Wells said. The classrooms inside it are too small. One challenge is parking, and the only place where a parking lot could be built is at that site.
He offered staff recommendations on how the city uses the $996,000 available for the project:
· $350,000 estimated to contract an architect for design fees and feasibility/program studies, expected to take six to nine months. Actual construction would start in fiscal 2024.
· $158,000 estimated to demolish the stone arts and storage building.
· $336,000 to perform site work including detention repair, expected to take three to four months.
The feasibility study would help to find out exactly what kind of space is needed for arts programming and if an addition to the newer annex building would be adequate, or if they should demolish all the buildings and construct a new arts center.
Paulson said it would be fine to go ahead and fix the detention basin, but the city should take a phased approach with the arts center project.
“Can we hire the architect without having the usage study done? Because the architect is going to design something based on what the programming is going to be and we don’t have a partner for the program yet, unless you’re going to use 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 they had toured for ideas.
Councilmember Jody Reichel asked if staff had investigated the possibility of demolishing all the buildings and constructing a brand-new arts center with enough space for its desired programming.
Wells said none of the buildings are in great condition. The stone building, which was constructed in the 1930s and was repurposed as an arts center in the 1970s, has ADA-handicapped accessibility and code issues, outdated building systems and needs major structural repairs.
“Can we do something to try to do something classes for the summer?” Councilmember Melissa Mular asked.
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 that getting the deed from Fulton County has delayed us, but let’s not lose our momentum,” she said.
She suggested holding classes in the annex building prior to demolition or renovation. Other sites she suggested included the Lost Corner Preserve at 7300 Brandon Mill Road, at Heritage Sandy Springs before the Holocaust Museum locates there, or at 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 the city use the newer building for arts programming immediately, and budget for the work needed to renovate the stone buildings.
Assistant City Manager Kristin Smith said she and Perry have had conversations about offering interim programming. They’ve spoken with Fulton County, which is interested in continuing to provide some services out of the Abernathy facility. Smith said the city is also looking at ways to offer arts programming at other locations, such as at Hammond Park.
“If Fulton County wants to go ahead and continue art programming … why are we allowing them to give us the building so we can spend $5 million so they can continue to teach?” Councilmember Tibby DeJulio asked.
He suggested that the city let Fulton County spend $5 million to renovate the buildings and continue to teach residents of Fulton County and Sandy Springs.
“We don’t need Fulton County to come back in here and do this. They wanted to get out of the arts business. They’re out of the arts business,” Paulson said. “We’ve taken this over. Now let’s figure out what we’re going to do with this.”