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Avery Arts Center Would Rely on Private Funding, Grant Money

The Avery Re-Use Committee will send its unanimous recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.

The learning at the 1920s version of the is not quite done.

The Avery Re-Use Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend that a non-profit organization run an arts and community center out of the soon-to-be vacant school on High Street.

The group would rely on private funding and grant money to renovate and run the facility, committee chair Joe Heisler said in a phone interview.

"We felt it could meet an unmet need in the town, and could be a financially viable entity, if it is organized correctly," Heisler said. 

The recommendation calls for making way for performance arts space, studios, youth and senior activities and meeting space for civic groups, Heisler said.

The committee took roughly 12 "grueling" meetings to churn out the recommendation, but they were able to fully vet projects and helped to evaluate needs for town buildings within Dedham, Heisler said.

Selectman Paul Reynolds, a member of the committee, has supported an arts center in East Dedham since his re-election campaign last winter, and presented a concrete idea to the committee last month.

"The dream is to plan and launch a first-rate arts and community center, which will take a major effort to identify non-traditional funding, as we have no intention of going to the taxpayers to foot the bill," Reynolds said.

The Board of Selectmen likely will take up the Avery arts center project early next year as they prepare to send a warrant article to May's Town Meeting.

Plans call community members to quickly establish a non-profit entity that would help get the ball rolling with a feasibility study and other immediate preparations.

Residents expressed concern throughout the process that the building not be left vacant and for the town to find a temporary use. The Re-Use Committee focused on a permanent use, by order of selectmen, but Reynolds signed to a quick process.

"The good news is that the current plan addresses the concerns really well - neighbors don't want a vacant building, and artist studios and non-profit arts offices can fire up quickly - requiring very little, if any renovations," he said. "The goal is make sure the old Avery's lights don't go out for even a day."

A new arts center would address a need both for artists - starving for affordable space - and the town - looking to turn a to-be vacant building into a profitable property, Heisler said.

"This is something that could provide an economic anchor for our community and help us to attract good, new families and help continue to revitalize our neighborhood," said Heisler.

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