‘Arts on Main’ in downtown Van Buren on schedule for early 2022 opening

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 911 views 

Pictured is the Center for Art and Education pottery and multipurpose classroom building located on the back half of the 400 block of Main Street and to the rear of the center buildings on Main Street.

With the pottery building nearing completion and restoration of the masonry veneer completed on the historic section, work on the future home for the Center for Art and Education (CAE) in Van Buren is on schedule.

The project is on schedule for completion in the fall/winter 2021. CAE intends to open the new site in early 2022. Once the move is made to 415 E. Main Street in downtown Van Buren, the organization will be known as Arts On Main.

Construction started in late 2019 on the center housed at 415 Main Street, next door to the King Opera House. Beshears Construction of Fort Smith filed for commercial remodel building permit with the City of Van Buren Nov. 27, 2019, indicating the project would cost $5.8 million. The total project cost, to include furniture, fixtures and equipment, is around $7 million.

CAE Executive Director Jane Owen said at the time the center has the funds in place for the remodel project, thanks in part to a $2 million matching grant from the Windgate Foundation. Fundraising efforts began in 2016 when the CAE board of directors and staff realized their growing pains meant they would need a new home.

The current facility at 104 N. 13th St. is not completely handicap accessible and at 3,500 square feet (which includes a garage building that houses offices) does not have room for all the exhibits, programs and workshops the center wanted. The new facility is 17,000 square feet, more than three times the size of the existing building, and will be handicap accessible, allowing the center to offer programs for everyone, Owen said.

“This is going to be an amazing jump for the center that adds a great deal of opportunity for additional programs and teaching opportunities,” said Rusty Myers, vice president of the CAE board of directors. “That was not possible or limited in the existing building in terms of workshops and programs. That’s why CAE has done so many programs outside the center.”

Myers noted CAE will continue to do programs at various locations in the region, but the new building will allow them to do a whole lot more at one site.

The new center essentially will be three buildings, though two are connected. CAE owns the historic one-story building at 413 Main Street and the historic two-story building at 415 Main Street, Myers. A third building, the pottery building, is a newly built structure behind the historic buildings, Myers said.

“The older buildings are being rehabilitated and in many ways, certainly in regards to the fronts of the building and some interior aspects of the buildings, we are restoring those elements. They will be taken back to the same look with many of the same materials that were used when the building was first built over 100 years ago,” Myers said.

The second component of the project is new additions that will join the backs of the historic one- and two-story buildings. Those additions will be connected to the older two buildings but will obviously be new construction.

“You’ll be able to see a difference in them because in the restoration world, they don’t want them looking exactly the same. They want it to be clear that they are two distinct buildings, but they are compatible in look,” Myers said.

The main area of the center will feature a lobby and two galleries, a multi-purpose meeting and event space, a culinary kitchen and storage area on the first floor. The second floor will feature multiple children’s classrooms, office space, and additional storage along with a break room and an interactive children’s gallery. There will be an elevator to the second floor, which also will feature a library with floor to ceiling shelving and a wheeled ladder that will allow for display and access to the many historic art books the center owns.

The pottery building will include a pottery studio with kilns and pottery wheels and an open space area that can be used for community meetings or classroom space, Myers said. It opens up into a garden area in the back, allowing it to be used as an indoor/outdoor facility, he said. The pottery building is currently “in the dry,” Myers said, meaning the walls are built, there is a roof that is shingled and eave and window trim and window glass are installed. The mechanical and electrical systems are being roughed in, he added.

“That building could be completed by the end of the year. It will not be usable because the grounds, driveway and the parking around it won’t be completed by the end of the year,” he said.

On the historic buildings, the masonry veneer has been restored, new concrete floors finished and a metal-stud framing has been installed as the “interior skeleton to the existing buildings,” Meyers said.

“That framing goes all the way to the roof. It will make the old buildings square and level and structurally sound,” Myers said. “We are not depending on the old structure to support the new structure. The roof and floor joists will rest upon this new metal framing and this new concrete pad.”

Concrete piers and footings have been poured for the new additions to the backs of those buildings. Once the floor slab is poured in the area, which it will be in the next couple of weeks, downtown Van Buren will see a new steel structure taking shape behind the historic structure for the new additions. Cleanup and removal of debris inside the historic buildings is nearing completion, Myers said.

“There is a lot of new build out in older buildings. What we are going to see inside those new buildings now is new construction. Restoration is pretty much completed or will be soon,” he said.

Along with the buildings, CAE owns most of the back of the lot that makes up the 400 block of historic Main Street. The city of Van Buren owns the portion directly behind the King Opera House, but the city has allowed CAE to work on it and create parking, Myers said.

“It’s essentially all usable property for CAE purposes and behind King Opera House for public parking if anyone chooses to do that,” he said.

Site work and grading is complete in that area, and OG&E removed overhead utility lines located in the right of way behind the buildings and buried the lines underground around the perimeter of the building.

“That removes overhead lines that were visually unappealing and puts them underground where the site is fully usable. That’s a pretty big deal that OG&E did that at their expense,” Myers said.

Myers was also quick to compliment MAHG Architecture of Fort Smith for their design work and Beshears Construction for their work on the project.

“They have taken great pains to see it’s all done right and been very careful, thoughtful and methodical about how they have done the restoration and the new construction,” he said.

Though the project did encounter a few issues that required change orders early on, including dirt work and some issues with a rear wall of one of the existing buildings that added to the project’s expense, contingencies were built in prior to start that has allowed the project to remain on budget, Myers said.

The 43-year-old Center for Art & Education began in a small room in the city-owned Van Buren Community Center, its website states. The first art exhibits and classes were held in whatever space was available. In 1979, the art center bought a “turn-of-the-century home,” which became the first Crawford County Art Center. In 1984, the art center bought St. Michael’s Catholic Church, circa 1912, which has served as its home since. Over the next 25 years, the center changed its name to the Center for Art and Education and grew its programs. It now serves more than 5,000 individuals of all ages, its website said. The new building will bring one more change for the organization.

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