Pieces of History

Submitted photoConnie Fritz, director of the Colquitt County Arts Center, participated in the announcement of the 2018 Places in Peril list from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation Nov. 7 in Atlanta. The arts center building was included on the list, and preservation efforts have ramped up since then.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — The Colquitt County Arts Center is in peril. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation says so.

But by being listed on the preservation group’s Places in Peril list last November, the arts center now has access to some resources that may help it secure its 90-year-old home.

As always, the question revolves around money.

The arts center is housed in the former Moultrie High School, which opened to students in 1929. The building served as a school until the 1970s, when Colquitt County High School opened on what’s now Veterans Parkway.

The arts center was conceived in a letter from Barbara Fallin to the Moultrie Service League, dated Jan. 27, 1977.

“There is a real need here for the promotion of the arts,” Fallin wrote, and she suggested the old high school might be acquired for the purpose. With this idea the league, with Barbara Vereen as spokesperson, convinced the Colquitt County Board of Education that if given title to the abandoned building, they could develop an arts institution.

Over the last 42 years, the building has benefitted from two fundraising campaigns that have allowed for its renovation, but the more recent of the two was in 1998.

The venerable building needs work. The arts center has been through some lean times, and maintenance has sometimes been postponed due to financial straits.

There’s a three-quarter-inch gap at the bottom of the exterior doors where they’ve sagged. There is rotten wood on the fascia all around the roof. The cupola atop the roof — which has become a symbol of the arts center — is rotted with missing louvers. A wing of the building does not have air conditioning.

Since the arts center made the Places in Peril list, officials have been to several workshops put on by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

They’ve been in talks with McMillian Pazdan Smith Architects, the same company that managed the renovation of the Moultrie public library last year.

They have approached the Colquitt County Arts Center Foundation for money to hire the architects to make a plan for the future of the building.

“We’ve started taking baby steps toward what needs to be done,” said arts center Director Connie Fritz.

Once the architects are signed on, it will take them about three months to get a plan together, Fritz said. It will be in phases, with the first phase to address structural issues, such as the rotten fascia and dilapidated cupola.

Until the plan comes together, arts center officials won’t know what it’s going to cost, but they can be pretty sure it will be a lot. About a year ago, the arts center reached out to the county government for help maintaining the building. The county couldn’t help because it is not county property, but the county administrator and the director of the county maintenance department assessed the building’s needs as a courtesy. Their estimate called for $1.6 million in repairs and upgrades.

Arts center officials are expecting the architect to propose some different solutions, so they aren’t sure how relevant the county’s estimate is.

For example, Arts Center Board President Ashley Goss said some parts of the building are not functional due to design issues. Officials want the architect to come up with some plans to make the space more usable.

“We hope the architect can use every square foot of this facility,” Goss said.

Arts center officials are already seeking grants to help cover the renovation’s cost. Fritz was preparing applications for one from the Fox Theatre Institute and one from the state Department of Natural Resources last week. But most of the funding will come from donations to a capital campaign that will begin once the architects present their plans. The arts center is receiving help from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the University of Georgia’s Archway Project as they prepare for the fundraising effort.

There isn’t a timetable for the work, per se — but Fritz has her eye on the building’s centennial in 2029 as a great time to have everything finished.

“You’ll start to see some immediate progress — I’d say after kickoff (of the fundraising campaign),” she said.

Meanwhile, the arts center will continue its operations. A variety of arts camps are planned throughout the summer, local actors presented “Steel Magnolias” this weekend, an annual quilt exhibit will feature Quilts of Valor in September, and the center is always on the lookout for more instructors.

Visit colquittcountyarts.com or call (229) 985-1922 for more information on its offerings.

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