Auditorium Rennovation Project Sparks Debate In Manhattan

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Plans to remodel an auditorium in Manhattan's City Hall have concerned citizens and local veterans stepping forward and asking officials to rethink the project.

Randi Dale is one of the concerned citizens who does not want the city to remodel the Peace Memorial Auditorium.

"This is a very sad destruction that they’re talking about doing," she said.

The auditorium was built in the 1950s as a living memorial to the 2,610 Riley County veterans who served and the 101 Riley County soldiers who died in World War II.

The city plans to remove the auditorium’s stage and seating to make way for two practice basketball courts and office space for the Parks and Department Department. The department's offices are currently located in the city park.

The city asked the Manhattan City Commission in 2012 to take a look at the auditorium for possible renovation to bring the Parks and Rec offices over to city hall.

Deputy City Manager Jason Hilgers says the $2.9 million renovation project would create “some efficiencies,” eliminating two customer service positions and improving inter-office workings

"As we contemplated that, we look at the use of the auditorium, the gym space, the stage, the seating area and devised a plan to incorporate the Parks and Rec offices in the seating area. And looking at the uses of our gym space and our stage, the demand we’re seeing right now is much more on the side of the gym space," he told WIBW.

The names of those who died and who served in WWII from Riley County were supposed to be listed in the foyer, according to historical documents from the 1940s city officials dug up but Hilgers say its never happened.

"The city commission didn’t know all of the information behind this before they made a vote to take this stage away. So we’re fighting to save it because this is part of history. This is a World War II living memorial for our soldiers that fought for our freedom," Randi Dale said. "I am for saving the stage, saving this place but updating it."

"The heart of this auditorium is the stage and to go along with it is the rank seating so if you take that out, it becomes nothing more than an athletic place to play basketball," she added.

Local veterans say they don't want to see the auditorium altered.

The Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Kansas Chapter Inc. has asked the city commission to take a step back and look at other options for the space.

"It’s a memorial like any memorial whether it’s World War II, Korea or Vietnam. We need to remember our history. We need to preserve our community’s history and the auditorium that was built 58 years ago," said local WWII veteran Jim Sharp. "We think the stage and the stage and auditorium should be restored and then in 2015, have a 60th anniversary celebration led by the mayor and the city commission along with veterans, patriotic and historical groups."

Hilgers says the city has done some legal research on the issue and that there’s nothing restricting the city from renovating the area.

"Our stance right now is that there’s a way to do this in a way that’s consistent with memorials… We’re willing and have offered to establish a committee to look at a formal dedication of this space. We want to work with the veterans, we want to work with those who have an interest in remembering the veterans of this community, this county." he said.

The city's Historic Resources Board has also encouraged the Manhattan City Commission to look at other options for the space. The city commission is expected to weigh in on the recommendation during their first or second meeting in August.

"We have some time. If the commission gives us direction to stop and redo or retool or look at some alternatives, we can do that…As of now, they’ve given us direction to move forward with the design for the renovation," Hilgers told 13 News.

"They have not advertised to rent the auditorium and it could be rented and used more…And I feel there could be money-raising projects to get the sound system to where it needs to be so the auditorium could be rentable. But the city hasn’t thought outside of the box which is very sad," Randi Dale added.


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