The Fitton Center for Creative Arts has embarked on a $7 million dollar capital improvement campaign that would include a major renovation of the theater, plus a solar panel array that would double as a cover for the parking lot.
The theme is “Building for Now, Building for the Future,” and is projected to create a total of $12 million in economic activity for the city of Hamilton.
This month, the Fitton Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and although it has been scrupulously maintained, according to Executive Director Rick H. Jones, many of the fixtures and facilities have not been renovated since that time.
As the center approached the anniversary, Jones said the first initiative was to simply perform a sustainability review, but that review by SHP Leading Design revealed a serious energy problem in that the halogen lamps that were being used in the galleries and the theater contributed to about 30 percent of the building’s cooling costs.
“That was the drive behind the campaign,” Jones said. “We want the building to have a more sustainable future by reducing operating costs as much as possible so that the money we receive can be directed to programming, which is the heart and soul of the Fitton Center.”
In the meantime, board member Ken Snyder led a committee to do a review of all of the center’s facilities and determined that the entire building needed a face-lift, everything from the carpeting and painting to the dance studio flooring.
“It’s hard to believe, but even the addition (the Carruthers Art and Technology Center) is 10 years old,” he said. “And we’ve had activity here that wasn’t being considered when the first building was constructed.”
The Butler Tech Options Academy, he said, was a blessing for the Fitton Center because it gave the building an extra purpose. But while the students all treated the building with due respect, it caused extra wear and tear.
“The students never abused the building, but they used it,” Jones said.
The review committee also wanted some work to be done on the theater, especially the bleacher-style seating.
“That room was designed to have multiple uses,” Jones said, “so at the time, the pull-out seating made sense, and we’ve gotten a lot of extra use that way.”
But, he confessed, most patrons have found the seats uncomfortable and the stairs hard to maneuver, so SHP Leading Design worked out a plan to totally re-configure and expand the theater space by only moving one wall.
Under the proposed configuration, the north wall of the theater would be knocked down and the room expanded in that direction. The Monument Avenue entrance to the Fitton Center would become the interior entrance to the theater and would allow for expanded box office and control booth areas, reconfigured and increased restroom space, and increase the seating capacity from 161 seats to 257 seats.
“This is really the capstone piece of the whole thing,” Jones said.
The Fitton Center has also been working with the Ohio-based company Dovetail Solar and Wind to design a solar panel array that would allow the Fitton Center to reduce its electric bill between 60 percent and 80 percent, the savings of which can again be distributed to arts and education programming.
This fund-raising drive would also allow the Fitton Center to suspend its regular annual fund-raising drives for two years, he said, as it includes portions for operating reserves and a $1.5 million contribution to the endowment fund.
“This 20th anniversary campaign will be a one-time effort to raise significant capital and reserve funds,” Jones said. “The vital programs and services we perform add to our community’s quality of life.”
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