Group believes they can get the job done without using taxpayer money

By Jennifer Jenks
Burns Times-Herald

The dream began during the Portland Youth Philharmonic Concert last year when some visitors with that group mentioned to the Harney County Arts in Education Committee (HCAEF) that this community really needed a performing arts center. Since then, HCAEF members have been soliciting support and ideas for the project, and now find themselves one step closer to making their dream a reality.

“We want to gift our community a performing arts center,” announced Debby Peckham at last week’s Burns City Council meeting. Peckham and Becky Thein, both members of HCAEF, were in attendance at the request of Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette after LaFollette saw the two give the same presentation at a Community Response Team meeting and said it was one of the most inspiring presentations he had ever seen.

The idea is to have a performing arts center that can cater to all artists in the community and can be a place for them to call “home.” The center would seat 1,000, special attention would be paid to acoustics in the building and it would provide space for practicing and performing for band, choir, drama, visual arts, fiber arts and media arts, among others.

The center could provide a venue for having a film festival, concerts and theater productions and bring in visitors from outside areas, which would benefit the entire community, with money being spent at motels, restaurants and shops in town. “We need to think about tourism and what this could do for our county,” Peckham stated. “The possibilities are endless.” She mentioned that one of their former band students, Nate Ritches, lives in Nashville now and has been feeding the group band names that they might be able to get to perform at the center.

The best news, Peckham said, is they intend to have the center built without using taxpayer funds. She said the group had talked to Donna Schnitker, who got the new Early Childhood Center building built almost entirely with grants, and they were looking to do the same thing with the new center. They would also like it built as “green” as possible so that it will run more efficiently.

There is not a building currently in place in the community big enough to house the group’s vision, so they will have to build from the ground up, but they have a couple of sites in mind that  they are currently looking in to.

HCAEF members are open to any comments or advice from the community as they move forward with the project. “We can’t say for sure that this will get done,” Peckham said, “but we’re going to give it our best shot.”

City Manager Don Munkers updated the council on the progress of the parks program work at Washington Park. He said they had met with a supplier and that public works was lined up to store equipment until they are ready to  proceed. They plan to excavate the area, put gravel as a base and then pour cement to sod level. Equipment will then be placed and foam padding will be installed.

Munkers said they are looking for volunteers who can help with that work. They could probably get the project done in a weekend if they got enough volunteers, he stated.

Munkers added that a group will be surveying owners and renters in the area to ask if they would be interested in establishing a Park Watch Program to curtail vandalism, which has been prevalent at the park in the past.

A lot of people seem to be confused about what the airport committee does, stated Councilor Terri Holt. She explained the committee is in place to promote and market the airport and to encourage business in that area.

They are open to thoughts and concerns from the public, but are not in charge of the operations or management of the airport and cannot address those issues. That is the responsibility of the city manager or airport manager.

She stated committee members would not be enticed into confrontation about these issues and they would like to continue to move forward and put an end to disputes. “The airport benefits everyone in our community,” she said. “Let’s look at the positive side of things.”

In other business:

• Councilor Dan Hoke thanked those responsible for significantly cleaning up several streets, in particular the one behind Les Schwab Tire Center, and for moving the  dirt pile and burning brush at the cemetery;

• there was an in-depth discussion on either purchasing a new street sweeper or having the old one rebuilt. The streets have not been swept since last summer, the road department reported, so they were really behind. Hines and the county don’t have street sweepers, and the one owned by the state can only be used to sweep highways.

With spring coming and all the gravel on the road this time of year, as well as the bird festival coming up, the department stated a decision needed to be made, since it will take about two months to rebuild the old sweeper if that is what they decide to do. Munkers stated the money for the sweeper would have to be taken from other funds, as there was not enough in the street fund. Councilor Hoke stated an informed decision could not be made without knowing what funds are available and what all the options are. The decision was subsequently tabled until the next meeting;

• Harney County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jen Hoke was in attendance to update the council on chamber activities. She spoke about the upcoming bird festival and the posters that were put up containing local artwork from the first-place winners of last year’s bird festival art show. She stated they would also be doing a “Where’s Waddle” campaign to get visitors and locals alike into the stores and involved with the festival.

The chamber has taken 657 phone calls and had 690 visitors since the beginning of the year and have mailed more than 250 brochures of Harney County. They will be hosting a Candidate’s Night for candidates for county commissioner and justice of the peace May 1 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. They also host merchant’s meetings the third Thursday of each month, which are always open to the public;

• the council approved a resolution to accept unanticipated revenues for the police reserve program;

• the council approved a resolution to pay off the police cars;

• Mayor LaFollette said he had received a letter from Harney District Hospital (HDH) regarding the Trail of Hope, and this year they are extending the event to all types of cancer, instead of just breast cancer as they have done in the past. HDH requested closure of Broadway the day of the run/walk event, which was granted. He also received a letter from the Burns Lions Club about their 70th anniversary this year, which will be  celebrated at the Harney County Community Center March 31 beginning at 5 p.m.

The next Burns City Council meeting will be held Wednesday, March 28, at 5 p.m. at Burns City Hall, 242 S. Broadway.

2 Responses to “HCAEF seeks to build performing arts center”

  1. Jackie Says:

    I am learning from this. Very informative

  2. Barbara Pearson Says:

    Many years ago my husband and I stopped by Ely, NV on the way home from a vacation. That town had a new convention center. At the time, the town had nothing else to offer: no movie theater, no recreation for youth. We were bored stiff because there was nothing for a visitor apart from going to a convention. My point is there needs to be something more for a community.

    While I think the idea of a performing arts center is a good start, Harney County still needs to work on other projects, like cleaning up abandoned property and making it a friendly atmosphere for businesses that provide healthy entertainment for its youth. Business owners should do a field trip out of town to see how operations similar to theirs is maintained. It may inspire some to clean up their establishments, think of ways of engaging customers and visitors.

    Also, once that performing arts center is built, who will run and operate it? Nothing is listed there and I’m sure grant money will not be available on a perpetual basis.

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