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Boarman Arts Center's new home 'fabulous'

January 20, 2001

Boarman Arts Center's new home 'fabulous'



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Civic leaders can hardly find enough superlatives to describe how pleased they are that the Boarman Arts Center will have a new home in the old Federal Courthouse and Post Office.

The federal government plans to give the 106-year-old building at King and Maple streets to the 14-year-old arts center near King and Queen streets. It will be used as a center for arts activities in the Eastern Panhandle and serve as one linchpin for revitalization in that part of downtown.

The building was closed to the public in the early 1960s and used by federal agencies for unspecified purposes since then. It has been empty for several years.

"It's a fabulous building," said Don Wood, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society. "Buildings, when they sit empty, they do not survive very long. They need to be in use.

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"I think it's an ideal center for this."

"It's a perfect match" for the arts community, said City Councilman Roger Lewis. "It's going to be much more than a museum. It will encompass youth programs, education, all sorts of things.

"It's going to be a critical part of downtown revitalization."

This is not a first for the arts center. In 1983, area residents began looking at ways to save the rundown historic home of Admiral Charles Boarman. By 1987, it had been renovated and opened as the Boarman Arts Center, said Norma Lee Sutherland, one of the founding members of the board and a past president.

"I'm overjoyed," she said. "It's a step above what we have because there is so much more space and it is so versatile," she said.

The building has 28,000 square feet, including a 1,200-square-foot old courtroom. It has polished hardwood floors, wide hallways and high ceilings, the original revolving door, a manual Otis elevator that still works, marble fireplaces and slate hearths.

A key to the center will be education. The General Services Administration will give the building to the U.S. Department of Education, which will give it to the arts center.

The arts center will be able to expand education programs it already has with schools, said Executive Director Patricia Perez.

"This is a real boost to the arts in the Eastern Panhandle," said board member Stew Borger, a past board president. "It's a real gem. It will allow us to get more into education programs."

Over the coming years, the building will need about $700,000 in work, primarily to make it comply with the Americans for Disabilities Act and to meet fire and safety codes, Perez said. But it all doesn't all have to be done immediately.

That figure will be less daunting because the arts center won't have a mortgage. The building also will open the door to many other grant possibilities, Perez said.

The state has a grant program specifically designed to help rehabilitate old buildings like this for arts facilities. Naming rights to the new center should attract money.

And this is exactly the kind of building most communities would love to have to support the arts, Perez said.

The arts center will need local money as well, and a capital campaign will be mounted, she said.

"This will be a real test for the community," Borger said. "I think they'll meet it."

The federal government weighed the financial considerations before making the decision.

"We are taking a risk that your potential sources of funding may not materialize," wrote Mary Hughes of the Education Department in a letter spelling out plans for the building. "... we have weighted the fact that the Boarman Art Center has been in operation for 14 years and has been a good steward of the historic building you now occupy."

A couple of years ago the county tried to acquire the building, but found the cost too high, said County Commissioner John Wright, who said he is delighted at this outcome.

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