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Editor's Corner: Building for the future

Paul Halajian Architects

These photos show interior and exterior views of the Madera Public Library, which was built about 100 years ago. Today, it is used as a storage space.


Clovis architect Paul Halajian and members of his staff briefed about 30 members of the community Wednesday night on plans for remodeling the historic library at 6th and G streets and ideas for a future performing arts center that would be built across G Street from the library on land now occupied by the out-of-date county office building that was the courthouse before the new one was built.

His staff also showed some ideas for upgrading downtown Madera, and a redesign of Memorial Courthouse Park.

The whole package, he said, could cost as much as $65 million.

Those present didn’t exactly faint on the floor when they heard that figure — most had heard it before — but they knew it was a far cry from the $2.5 million that was made available some five years ago to the Madera County Arts Council through a bequest from the estate of the late Elaine Secara for construction of a center for the arts. Elaine and her late husband, Frank, were supporters of the arts council from the get-go.

Under the stewardship of former Madera School Superintendent Julia O’Kane, arts council president, a joint powers authority to oversee development of an arts center was formed to include the city, the county, the school district and the arts council.

Since $65 million is a long ways off, it might be a good idea for the boosters of the arts center to start small — with the 100-year-old library. That edifice, which encompasses about 7,000 square feet, has been declared a historic structure by the county, which means it could be acquired by the authority for relatively little money and remodeled into a multipurpose arts center for use while funds are raised for the big one, which likely would take several years.

Halajian said the building is in relatively good shape, and likely could be remodeled for the money available.

About half the building could be used as offices for the arts council and its affiliated Circle Gallery, and half for a small theater that could be used for little-theater productions, concerts and as a lecture hall.

You can see from the accompanying photos that the library is spacious and has good character. Plans for downtown would have to wait. Halajian proposed a “tool kit” of urban design features, such as park benches and sidewalk extensions that could be used to dress up downtown by making room for outdoor dining. Improvements in parking and traffic safety also would be included.

But the problem is that most of the people who own downtown haven’t shown much interest in improving their buildings, even though some have made good efforts.

The important thing is that we now have a plan which gives us an idea of what the arts center and its surroundings could be like. That could translate into a vision for a better Madera of the future, rather than one that Halajian called a “default future,” which in essence means staying the same.

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