City again nixes St. Helen’s for Opera House expansion

December 1, 2012

The acquisition of the St. Helen’s building to expand the Opera House was once again discussed by the Granbury City Council Tuesday night, but was once again voted down.

The council will be moving forward with the design of architect Brian Gaffin, which uses the theater’s original footprint.

City Manager Wayne McKethan said Wednesday that he plans to quickly schedule a pre-construction meeting with Bill Scott of the Scott Tucker Construction Company of Fort Worth.

Construction should begin quickly, McKethan said, which would put the long-delayed completion date in early July. By contract, the company has to be finished within 210 days after beginning the work.

The contract amount is for $2.2 million, with the city spending another $65,000 on architectural fees and up to $60,000 for refurbishing of the theater seats. The total price tag is $2.325 million.

It seemed clear that a number of people who supported expansion had hoped that the newly elected Gary Couch could undo the previous thumbs-down vote of the man he unseated, Mitch Tyra.

Couch was sworn in Tuesday night at the top of the council meeting. Tyra congratulated him on his win before stepping down from the dais and taking a seat on the back row, where he listened to the Opera House debate.

After lengthy discussion, Couch and fellow council member Laurel Pirkle were voted down by Tony Allen, Mickey Parson and Nin Hulett. Parson’s vote to move forward with Gaffin’s plans using the original footprint reportedly was a surprise to some people.

Allen said Wednesday that it was his understanding that some of those who had donated before for the acquisition of St. Helen’s were not necessarily on board for a second attempt.

Following the vote, several audience members, who appeared disappointed, left the meeting. Audience members included former council member Lisa Johnson and former Mayor David Southern.

Allen said he fully supports the Opera House, but said: “To me, to put (construction work) off another day, I’m against that 100 percent.”

There is a difference of opinion regarding reasons behind the delays.

Tuesday night – as he has done before – Mayor Rickie Pratt berated Gaffin, accusing the architect of having “misled” the council about his ability to be bonded for the project.

It is true that problems arose due to Gaffin’s inability to be bonded.

Gaffin took to the podium to “dispel the rumors and innuendo” that he said have swirled around the long-delayed project. He said that in several meetings, comments were made by city officials that Pratt wanted the project delayed until November.

“I was bumfuzzled by that particular comment,” Gaffin said, adding that he now has a better understanding of what was behind it.

The election was in November. Tyra – who butted heads with the mayor about the Opera House – was replaced by Couch.

On Wednesday, Allen said that he attended three meetings about the Opera House project, and that at each meeting the mayor wanted costly changes made to the plans. The changes included lighting and construction of an orchestra pit.

“He (Pratt) was causing delay and expenses,” Allen said. “That’s what was running the costs up – it was the mayor.”

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