Tonawanda News — The Carnegie Art Center, located in a city-owned building constructed in 1904 and already on the National Register of Historic Places, will receive a major overhaul in the coming months, one that Executive Director Mary Simpson hopes will lead to expansive opportunities.
On Thursday, the city announced a $343,000 federal grant that will be used to upgrade the structure’s handicap accessibility, add bathrooms and open up the space to the prospect of special events.
Simpson worked on the grant application along with members of the Lumber City Development Corporation through their community development role. She said she has been searching for a way to reinforce the organization’s offerings since taking the helm in 2009.
“I’ve been thinking about this since the day I walked in the building,” Simpson said.
A handicap ramp built in the 1970s that does not meet disability standards will be torn down, while an addition to the rear of the building will marshal the installation of an elevator and access to the basement and first floor. Simpson said bathrooms on both floors will be constructed as well, adding that she believes the improvements will lead to an expansion of the Carnegie’s art classes.
“It will allow us to offer programing to many more people, it will allow us to hold special events here,” she said. “People want to come in and have their wedding here but they haven’t been able to because of the conditions of the bathrooms and the accessibility issues.”
Mayor Rob Ortt said the project, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and funneled through a state Community Development block grant program, will boost the Carnegie’s portfolio and better serve the pubic.
“These renovations will help move the Carnegie towards becoming a true events center,” he said. “The goal is for this building to become yet another destination within North Tonawanda.”
Michael Zimmerman, of the LCDC, called Simpson “the driving force” behind the grant, project and “advocating for why it was needed.”
“It’s a project that we really think is going to help add to the culture amenities of this city, which is important to us,” he said.
Simpson said the city has conducted routine repairs and updates through smaller grants collected over the years, but since the Carnegie was transformed from a library to an art center in 1976, there has been nothing quite as far-reaching.
“This building has served North Tonawanda for more than a century, as the first public library and now as an art center,”she said. “Art is the essential foundation to cultural vibrancy and quality of life for everyone and with the accessibility created through these funds, the Carnegie Art Center can welcome everyone. Art belongs to all of us.”