City eyeing St. Helen’s building again

November 28, 2012

It’s the season for giving, and the Granbury City Council was set last night to reconsider a gift it had turned down earlier this year.

Months after the City Council voted down accepting the St. Helen’s building for the Granbury Opera House renovation project during a meeting packed with hopeful donors, Tuesday night’s council agenda called for another discussion of the matter.

The HCN went to press before the meeting took place.

At the top of the meeting agenda was the swearing in of newly elected council members. Laurel Pirkle was re-elected to a third term. Gary Couch, who favors expanding the Opera House, unseated Mitch Tyra, who did not favor the expansion.

Tyra had voted against accepting the gift of the St. Helen’s building, along with council members Tony Allen and Nin Hulett.

Allen asked City Manager Wayne McKethan to place on the agenda discussion regarding “potential options or contracts” for the Opera House project. He said he did so because Mayor Rickie Pratt recently informed him that he had not yet signed the contract for the Scott Tucker Construction Company – approved by the City Council a month ago – because it may not be too late to incorporate the St. Helen’s building.

Pratt did not return a phone call before press time.

Allen said he wants the contract signed so that the long-delayed project can move forward according to plans voted on by the City Council.

“I said, ‘Mayor, I don’t want to go down that path again. We’ve stalled on this thing for a year and a half now,’” Allen related to the Hood County News. He added: “I am for the Opera House, but I’m for getting it done now, not a year from now.”

The longer the project is delayed, the more it will cost the city, and the more it could jeopardize Andrew Barrus’ Granbury Theatre Company.

The company, which is putting on shows a short distance away at the former site of Granbury Live, has been struggling financially and has received monetary help from the city. McKethan said the city will be paying $6,500 of the Theatre Company’s $7,000 per month rent from January through June.

The city manager noted that, once Barrus and the Theatre Company are in the Opera House, costs will drop dramatically, plus Barrus will have between $150,000 and $200,000 in capital investments from donors.

Allen said that Pratt and new council member Couch had been talking about the city acquiring the St. Helen’s building.

Couch said Monday that no cost analysis has ever been done to determine whether using the building for expansion might actually save the city money.

“We’ve never asked for the numbers,” Couch said. “It may come out that there is no savings. But until we have that information, I feel like we’re not doing our job.”

A number of local individuals and groups banded together to raise funds to purchase the St. Helen’s building. They raised well over the purchase price of the building, and promised city officials to raise even more if needed. There would be several benefits to the expansion, they said, including improved handicap accessibility.

City Attorney Stuart Neal said that there are no legal complications if the City Council collectively changes its mind on the building donation.

“They are entitled to revisit the scope of the project,” he said.

Neal also said that, while Pratt has had the contract “sitting on his desk” for a couple of weeks, the month-long delay in the signing of the document was also due to “minor details that needed to be ironed out.”

McKethan said he will proceed as needed once he gets clarity from the City Council.

“I agree that it’s time to get started on the Opera House and get this thing built,” he said.

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