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Plans for Gary cultural center move forward

Updated: April 1, 2012 8:10AM



GARY — The Gary Public Library continued its rapid march toward a museum and cultural center Tuesday, awarding a $2.7 million contract to renovate the interior of the former Main Library.

While the board handled other business in the edgy meeting, opponents of the library’s closure continued to voice their complaints.

The contract for interior renovations for the South Shore Museum and Cultural Center, which was awarded to Powers and Sons of Gary, will include adding a community room, expanding a Wi-Fi cafe and converting stack space into exhibit areas, said architect Rosalyn Mitchell, of Form + Funktion.

Gariup Construction offered a lower bid, but their bid was not responsive, board attorney Kelly White said.

She handed board members and some audience members a set of full-color drawings that showed the extensive changes that should begin soon, Mitchell said.

“(Powers and Sons) can begin as soon as we can complete our bidding negotiations,” she said, adding extensive work to the exterior facade should begin later this week.

While board president Tony Walker, who was the focus of much of Tuesday’s negative comments, called the museum and cultural center “a reinvestment in downtown Gary” he hoped would spark others’ interests, board member Paula Nalls continued her criticism.

“We had no plan, we failed to plan,” Nalls, who has not been seen at most of the recent meetings, said of the conversion. “It’s just totally absurd. We’ve never seen a budget. It’s just really unfortunate.”

The museum and cultural center discussion also continued to lay bare the political differences of the divided board. The voting minority, made of Nalls, Sadie Sheffield and, at times, Nancy Valentine, continued to vote against most elements of the conversion, though Valentine left the meeting before the vote for Powers and Sons.

Richard Barnes, a Miller area resident and businessman, also slammed the museum and cultural center plans, reading from a list of facts about museum finances.

“You haven’t done your homework,” Barnes said. “I have, and we can’t financially support a museum. It’s not financially viable.”

The library system could move closer to bringing e-books back to Gary’s libraries, after library Director Otis Alexander formed a committee to investigate the issue. The system could cost about $15,000 a year, but it will make more than 10 million items available to library users, Alexander said.



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