Arts center plan before Portsmouth council Monday

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PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council once again will be asked to designate the former Coggeshall School building on East Main Road as a future community arts center.

The Portsmouth Arts & Culture Committee's request is on the agenda for the council meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, April 8 at Town Hall.

The committee is proposing to use the north section of the former Coggeshall building at 321 East Main Road, which is now being leased from the town by the Aquidneck Island Christian Academy (AICA). The committee is also asking the council to enter into negotiations for a lease agreement with the nonprofit Portsmouth Arts Guild (PAG), which would manage the center.

The council first considered the request at its March 11 meeting but did not take any action, saying it wanted to learn more about AICA's future plans and have other concerns addressed.

AICA has a lease with the town through July 1, 2014, but according to Town Administrator John Klimm, the school has requested an extension of that lease.

In a recent letter to the Town Council, George Furbish, chairman of the arts committee, stated when the school first entered into a lease with the town in 2009, it "was for two years and allowed for up to three annual extensions leading to a final termination date of (June 30, 2014). It has always been the committee's intention to honor the three extensions of the lease agreement before taking over the site. The final termination date of the least has always been known by the parties and we won't feel that the town of Portsmouth had any intention of granting to the lessee rights to extend the lease 'in perpetuity.'"

He added that the committee believes that "publicly owned property should best be used for the benefit of the entire community."

The council was also concerned about the loss of revenue should it terminate its lease with the school. The town receives slightly over $19,000 in rent from AICA, while the proposed lease with PAG calls for a $1 annual rental fee. Mr. Furbish said the loss in rental would cost the average taxpayer about 19 cents per month.

"We would suggest that some of that revenue should have been used to maintain the exterior of the building, which the current lessee is not responsible for," Mr. Furbish stated.

If the council grants the committee's request Monday, Mr. Furbish said he'd liked to have a lease signed by May 15 in order for the group to meet filing deadlines for various grant requests. The committee would like to have the property inspected this summer to determine what's needed in terms of building upgrades and repairs.

From May until July 2014, the committee would discuss potential collaborations with groups such as the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, Portsmouth Action for Youth, Newport Children's Theatre, NewportFilm and more, said Mr. Furbish.

 

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.