BRISTOL - The Memorial Boulevard School Task Force has approved plans to move forward with on a project for a theater located at the former school.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, chairwoman of the task force, explained the plan has been circulating for about two years but has been delayed because it needs to be approved by various city committees.
“Architects have been contacted and plans have been made, but the money isn’t there yet because it has to be approved by City Council and the Board of Finance,” said Zoppo.
Eric Cushman, project manager at Gilban Building Company, outlined the cost estimates for the project at a joint board meeting between City Council and the Board of Finance on Tuesday. Turning part of the old school into a 500-seat theater would cost $12.3 million, he said.
“Two weeks ago, the mayor decided to fund a theater with 500 seats because the zoning regulations called for that many based on parking,” said Zoppo. “The people who wanted the theater opposed the idea because they wanted more seats.”
In order to accommodate the parking for a 750-seat theater, the cost would increase to $13 million, according to Cushman.
“So there was another meeting last night [of the task force] that affirmed the idea of sticking with a 750-seat plan and to move forward onto phase-one of the project,” added Zoppo. “This was extremely positive for the people who worked for the cultural center.”
Though the task force has decided to move forward with the theater, plans for the rest of the building remain uncertain. While some have advocated for a cultural center, due to air quality issues in the current City Hall building, there are also proposals to move City Hall to the old Memorial Boulevard School, Zoppo said.
Moving City Hall and a theater into the old school would cost between $32 and $35 million, according to Cushman’s estimates. This option would not require extra parking spaces, as the theater and City Hall will likely not be used at the same time.
Within the last 10 days, D’Amato Construction Company purchased a building located at 10 Main St. and proposed that City Hall relocate there, according to Zoppo.
The company has no connection with the Memorial Boulevard location, Zoppo added.
Renovating the current City Hall building remains an option as well and would cost about $21 million. In order to save costs, the city could wait a few years to renovate or move City Hall, instead spending a few million dollars on basic maintenance of the current building, according to Glen Klocko, the former city comptroller.
Klocko and Diane Waldron, the new city comptroller, discussed their recommendations for financing the projects at the joint meeting Tuesday.
Klocko recommended the $13 million theater project, warning the council that a $35 million debt for the Memorial Boulevard School total renovation could lead to future budget difficulties, especially as Connecticut’s municipality funding is expected to decrease in the coming years.
If the board decides not to relocate City Hall to Memorial Boulevard, the council may choose to form a fundraising committee to improve the rest of the building and turn it into a cultural center. The committee would be responsible for raising millions more dollars for the project.
Michelle Jalbert contributed to this story.