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Albany State University fine arts center long overdue

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Lawmaker offers first ray of hope in some time for new Albany State arts center

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

On Thursday, state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, attended the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative affairs breakfast and he brought some good news with him. There’s some reason to hope that 2014 will be the year Albany State University gets funding for a badly needed fine arts center.

“I am optimistic that funding for a new fine arts center at Albany State will be included in the budget, as long as the community is politically smart enough not to create any unnecessary hurdles,” Rynders told the breakfast group.

For Rynders to make that statement is reason for the community and university to be optimistic as well.

It appears that Georgia is finally coming to a point where the state budget is starting to normalize after years of contracting since the 2007 recession. Rynders said Gov. Nathan Deal isn’t expected to propose any cuts in spending in January, something that had become an unpopular annual tradition in recent years. As state revenues continue to recover, flat spending could lead to an uptick down the road.

It also helps, as Rynders noted, that seven members of the budget-writing committee in Atlanta are from Southwest Georgia.

It was also clear, however, that the optimism comes with some reason for caution. What “unnecessary hurdle” could derail the funding for the arts center is unclear, but it is an indication that a the situation is fluid and a lack of political savvy on someone’s part could get the plug pulled on the project.

And that would be a shame.

Albany State needs a new fine arts center. The university’s fine arts programs and its humanities and English programs are all crammed into Holley Hall, a 33,000-square-foot building that just missed having to be demolished from damage it sustained in the 1994 flood. Musical equipment has to be stored beneath stairwells and artwork has lined hallways because of a lack of space. Officials at ASU say that about a quarter of the building’s space is used just for storage.

The fine arts center proposal, of course, has seen its share of controversy, particularly with the dispute with the Ray Charles Foundation over $3 million that Charles donated to help build the facility. After a decade of the project sitting at square one, Albany State returned $1.25 million of the money to the Charles Foundation.

Even if ASU had been able to keep the donation from the late entertainer and Albany native, it would not have come close to covering the cost for a new fine arts building. Construction of a facility in excess of 100,000 square feet would come with a hefty price tag, one in the $28 million to $29 million range.

That would be a large commitment from the state of Georgia.

But it also would be money well spent. A fine arts center would be, as ASU Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Leroy Bynum has stated, a great benefit to Albany State students and staff, but also to the Albany community and Southwest Georgia.

We hope Rynders’ crystal ball is clear on this project, and that nothing happens to cloud it up.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board