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Arts Association to propose Porter Memorial for civic center

Officials with the Newton County Arts Association feel they have found a way to get its long-sought civic center up and running.

The Arts Association, which has been working with the Newton County School System, will present an option to use the Porter Memorial Auditorium as the county’s future civic center to the BOC during a 6 p.m. work session Tuesday.

Newton County voters approved using $5 million of athe 2005 SPLOST referendum to help pay for a public/private civic center project. Dirt has yet to be turned on the project, which has seen many conceptions. One of the reasons the project has not yet begun is due to finances.

Newton County Arts Association Director Buncie Lanners said engineers from the school system assessed that the Porter Memorial Auditorium could be renovated into a civic center for the SPLOST-funded $5 million.

“Five million is not enough to build a new, big facility, and then there’s the cost on the maintenance end to operate the facility,” Lanners said. “The school system has been doing it and will continue doing it (for Porter Memorial Auditorium).
“It’s a way to benefit the broader community and have a facility that’s up to date that can be used for community events.”
Among the needed renovations to the auditorium, which was built in 1984, would be a new sound system, new lights, new seats and an extension for dressing areas. Currently classrooms are being used as dressing rooms during productions.
The 600-seat auditorium at the former Newton High School campus on Ram Drive was first proposed by 1983 in an agreement between the arts association (then called the Newton County Concert Association) and the school system. Since it opened a year later, the auditorium has been used for events such as the Little Miss Newton contest, events for the Newton County Recreation Commission, a theater for Newton High School and for performances by the Newton County Arts Association.

“We looked at the fact that we used it all the time and know the positive benefits of that facility,” Lanners said. “it still is a very nice facility in terms of its structure. It has great lines that you can see the stage and has a good size stage. The bones of it still have integrity.

“Primarily this in an opportunity to maximize our dollar.”

The work session will take place before Tuesday’s BOC meeting as a chance for the commissioners to hear the newest proposal in a line of ideas on how to get the civic center built. Other proposals for the project which at various points in 10 years ranged from $24-37 million, include a combined hotel and civic/conference project in downtown Covington, and a facility on the 55 acres of Neely Farm on the Bypass road.

Lanners said she hopes this latest proposal can use both the arts and its location to not only entertain Newton County but also help unite it.

“I think, increasingly in our community and our world, we see divisions among people and this facility in of itself can bring the east and west sides of the county together,” Lanners said. “It can become the center of our community. It has the Yellow River right there and you can have walking trails.

It kind of mimics what the arts association does in our community, which is bring people together regardless of race, religion or sexuality.”