In Cambridge's Harvard Square, a ballet company needing space to grow partnered with the Old Baptist Church, which is the same age as Gloucester's City Hall, to refinish the floors for dance and restore an historic edifice that had seen better days and needed help for continued life.
That model of preservation partnership struck City Councilor Bruce Tobey as holding potential for City Hall.
So, Tobey has filed an order for the council, together with Mayor Carolyn Kirk and the City Hall Restoration Committee, to generate a request for proposals "seeking a nonprofit cultural partner to share in the use and maintenance of City Hall."
Tobey said he linked the formal call for an RFP to a story in the online magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where the model for his initiative was discussed in detail.
He noted that City Hall functions as two related but separate entities now; municipal business is conducted from offices in the basement and ground floor, while the grand Kyrouz Auditorium with high, original tin ceilings, a stage and recently refinished hardwood floor and windows upstairs. The auditorium also has a new sound system.
Since the hall was built in 1867 and rebuilt in 1871 after a fire — it is on the National Register of Historic Places as a national treasure — the auditorium has hosted rodeos, basketball games, broadcasts, plays, concerts, dance, Buffalo Bill's traveling show and interminable City Council meetings.
Meanwhile, down below, despite ancient technology, the core of the municipal corporate leadership — with phones that have cut out in every storm since last winter, a lack of air conditioning and a shaky heating system — trudges on.
Millions have been invested in recent years to halt potentially fatal decay in the "old lady," as former Mayor John Bell fondly referred to the hall, and more will be needed if the government, or some other tenant, remains ensconced on the lower floors.
But debate has been growing surrounding the future of the hall.
One contingent argues that city government should be unified in one modern facility somewhere else — most likely Fuller School — and another contingent, including the current and previous mayors, sees wisdom in keeping to tradition and capitalizing on the orientation of the city around a historic City Hall in the center of the city's corpus.
This is how the ballet and the church worked together to strengthen the physical plant of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, according to the blog at the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
"Recent restoration efforts would probably not have been possible without the José© Mateo Ballet Theatre. In 1998, Scott Fraser, managing director of the ballet company, received a telephone call from the Old Cambridge Baptist Church's administrator, asking for advice about refinishing dance floors.
"The ballet company needed space to grow. 'Finding the right facility was our major business obstacle,' Fraser says. And the congregation at Old Cambridge Baptist needed a tenant 'if the church was going to survive,' says Ross Dekle, a member of the church's long-range planning and building team.
"After a year and a half of negotiations and planning, the ballet company and church reached an agreement that may well be a model for saving historic places. Taking out a 41-year lease, the ballet company helped provide funding to revamp failing structures and restore interior spaces. A portion of the ballet company's rent goes towards church improvements, and the ballet has run two capital campaigns to raise money for restoration.
"Jointly and separately the company and the church have received grants from the Cambridge Historical Commission, totaling $200,000, and from Partners in Preservation, in the amount of $100,000, to restore etched glass windows. According to Fraser, the church and ballet company have invested roughly $2.5 million in restoration and improvement projects since June 2000."
The link to the complete article is http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/story-of-the-week/2011/a-beautiful-duet.html
wRichard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.