Peterborough: ‘Media hub’ recommended

PETERBOROUGH — Creating a media center in downtown Peterborough — a location where new technologies would be available for teaching and use by arts organizations — could make the town “a center for the exploration of creativity and technology,” according to consultant Duncan Webb.

On Tuesday, Webb delivered a final report to the Select Board, based on his work over the past year studying the feasibility of a new arts center in Peterborough. Webb’s research, funded by a $25,000 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, ultimately concluded that developing a new community arts center is not a practical idea. But he did offer three suggestions, including the media center.

Webb suggested that the center could be a partnership between the town, the Sharon Arts Center, Comcast and local businesses. It would have a broadcast studio, a multipurpose room for classes and events, classrooms, a lobby and cafe as well as an equipment lending program. It could be used for teaching and equipment rental could support the center.

“This isn’t an arts project,” Webb told the Select Board. “This is an economic and community development project.” He said the goal would be to encourage young people to come to Peterborough, which could become a hub of new media just as it once was a center of publishing activity in the 1970s and ’80s.

Webb said the town would need to allocate about $250,000 from its operating budget to support the media center during its first two years, but his model indicated it could grow to a $1 million operation in four years, with a significant portion of the budget supported by earned income.

Webb’s other two recommendations are to improve existing arts facilities, starting with the Town House auditorium, and to partner with ConVal High School on the development of a new auditorium.

His suggested improvements at the Town House include spending up to $150,000 for a lighting instruments and control system; $30,000 to $40,000 for curtains and backdrops for the stage; and $25,000 to $30,000 to update rigging. He also recommended replacing the seating and looking into zoning the building for heating and potential air conditioning.

Webb also suggested a number of upgrades, including new lights, sound system and projection system, for Bass Hall, which he described as “a lovely room, but awkward.” He recommended consolidating rental and scheduling responsibilities for the two buildings.

Webb said a committee has been discussing the possibility of building a new auditorium at ConVal High School, and he urged the Select Board to look into how the town could contribute additional financing for that project in exchange for the right to use the auditorium regularly for town activities. His report included examples of several partnerships where towns and school districts joined forces to build performing arts centers and developed joint-use agreements to spell out exactly how the buildings were to be used by both groups.

When Webb asked for comments, Board Chair Joe Byk said he was intrigued by the media center idea.

Board member Liz Thomas said she did not think the high school was the best location for an arts center.

After board members accepted the report, Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett said it would be reviewed by town staff with the intent of having some specific items for the board to discuss in January.

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