Elmhurst chapel wrong place for Arts & Cultural Center

To the editor:
A proposal was recently put forth by Andrew Kelley, leading a group of advocates to save the Elmhurst chapel, that proposed as a rationale for saving the chapel that it would be an appropriate site for an Arts & Cultural Center to benefit all the citizens of Portsmouth.
While I would in no way be in opposition to saving the chapel, given its location on the banks of the Sakonnet River, its history, and the beautiful stained glass windows, it is clearly not the appropriate site for a vibrant community arts center.  I say this as the current chair of the Portsmouth Arts & Culture Committee, formed by the Town Council in 2008 to specifically  look at the feasibility of developing an arts center in Portsmouth, including where it would be best located, how it might be funded, and the type of programming that might be offered.  A report was submitted to the council last November and the council voted unanimously to schedule a workshop at some later date, hopefully shortly after the November election.
Unfortunately, the effort headed by Mr. Kelley to save the chapel has, I would hope unintentionally, served to undermine the work done over four years by the Arts& Culture Committee.  Our committee has developed a plan that recognizes the community’s needs (based on a public opinion survey), identifies a different and far more favorable site (the former Coggeshall School), a time line far less than 10 years (as suggested by Kelley), and at little or no cost to the taxpayers of Portsmouth.
By way of contrast, the chapel site, operating as an arts center, would be in conflict with the operations of the Manor House which is booked on almost all weekends for weddings and other events.  It lacks classroom space for art, music, and theater classes, retail and exhibtion space, unless significantly more of the building is saved.  Most important, it would cost a significant amount of taxpayer money to recondition.  The site also lacks access to public transportation and would require significant and costly site work to allow adequate parking and handicap access.
While there may well be other reasons to preserve the chapel, it is misleading to the public to suggest that the prime reason for saving it is to convert it to an arts center that adequately serves the entire community at anything resembling a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.  It is unfortunate that Mr. Kelley declined our offer of attending an Arts & Culture Committee meeting where these issues were discussed.
Our committee will be conducting an open forum on our detailed and comprehensive arts center plan on the evening of November 19t at the Portsmouth Public Library, prior to scheduling a council workshop.  It is hoped that members of the public (including Mr. Kelley) will attend to learn more about the plan as well as offer additional input.
George Furbish
Chairman, Portsmouth Arts & Culture Committee

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