PORTSMOUTH — A recommendation to transform the former Coggeshall School into a community arts center has been withdrawn by the very group that studied the issue for nearly five years.
The Arts and Cultural Committee made the request in the group’s “final report” dated July 29 letter and addressed to the Town Council. The report was signed by George Furbish and Mark Nickel, committee chairman and secretary, respectively. In addition, the report states that the committee’s work is now complete and requests that the panel’s term be allowed to expire on Dec. 31, 2013.
At an April meeting, the council voted to delay a decision on the proposed arts center at the school until October. The council was to act on a decision to designate the Coggeshall site — currently the home of the private Aquidneck Island Christian Academy (AICA) — as the future home for a community arts center. The council would also decide whether to enter into negotiations with the nonprofit Portsmouth Arts Guild as the managing entity for the center, with a lease to begin July 1, 2014.
The arts committee has since withdrawn those two recommendations and is asking the council to do two things:
• accept the committee’s final report as presented, but without recommendations.
• preserve the committee’s work, its preliminary report, results of the independent town-wide public opinion survey, and its final report, and consider it to be a plan for use of the Coggeshall site at some time in the future.
“Delays in the process, a significantly shortened lead time, and uncertainties about the Council’s commitment to a long term solution have led the Guild’s Board to reconsider its earlier commitment and to develop alternative plans for expanding the Guild’s operations. The Guild has withdrawn support for its role as managing entity for the Coggeshall project, at least in the near term,” the reported stated.
In a cover letter included with the report, Mr. Furbish said “there appears to be a lack of enthusiastic buy-in on the part of both the Town Council and the arts community in Portsmouth. The total commitment and enthusiastic support of both would be essential in making this a reality and creating a true public/ private collaboration.”
According to the report, the arts committee and the Portsmouth Arts Guild was operating on the assumption that the Coggeshall site would be available when the town’s current lease with AICA ends at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, and that the arts center would be considered as the long-term plan for the building.
“Unfortunately, the matter became confused in some quarters as an attempt to displace the current tenant, rather than a long term plan to re-vitalize a diminishing town asset, or ‘white elephant,’ that would add to the town’s quality of life,” states the report. “The Committee further understood that the lease agreement with the current tenant represented an interim solution, pending a long term plan to utilize the site for the benefit of all of the residents of Portsmouth. We hope that the Council will address the need for a long term plan for the site in the not too distant future, and consider this plan as one that offers potential benefits for the business community as well as residents of all ages.”
The arts committee says in the report that it’s convinced that “a vibrant community arts center may be the best use of the Coggeshall property, that such a center would serve Portsmouth residents of all ages, and that it would arrest further deterioration and preserve a valuable town-owned asset well into the future, using primarily private funding. The independently conducted public opinion survey clearly indicated that a community arts center would respond to the needs of a majority of Portsmouth residents.