Middle schoolers Chelsea May and Caroline Francisco symbolically opened the door Wednesday afternoon to the future of the Springville Center for the Arts as they turned the key and walked into what had been a Baptist church.
The center, which raised $100,000 in about three months to pay for the church, called out its members, volunteers and local politicians to celebrate the new facility.
At 5,900 square feet, it initially will more than double the space at the center's current site on Main Street.
More performance and exhibition space will be added as renovation work proceeds.
The next step calls for raising an additional $250,000 to convert the building into a working center for performing, literary and fine arts.
The main sanctuary at 37 N. Buffalo St. is largely a shell, with the floor already tilted as if for theater seats. The building, erected around 1867, requires exterior sealing and repairs of a fissure in the bell tower.
Seth Wochensky, the capital campaign chairman and former director of the center, said the structure is essentially solid and may be able to be used in a limited fashion almost immediately.
But the real vision is further down the road.
"We want to adapt the space while preserving the beautiful character," Wochensky said. "We're not looking at the space and saying, 'OK, we'll just put up a wall here, and we're done.' "
With that in mind, the center has hired architect Jay Braymiller to redesign the building. Braymiller will consult with Kristine Kemmis, who worked on the Hallwalls at the Church adaptation in Buffalo.
"They've offered to give us any expertise we want through their firm in terms of acoustic expertise, electronic expertise, theater seating expertise," Braymiller said.
"You don't find existing buildings, this sense of history," he said. "People just walk in, and it's like, 'Ah, what a great space.' There's definitely a feeling here of space and tension."
Wochensky welcomed any comparisons to Hallwalls. Both are multiple-use art spaces, he noted.
"We're the quaint rural version," Wochensky quipped. "But we certainly look to Hallwalls as an inspiration, and we're going to be taking tours and looking at that space, what is done."
The "door-opening" drew a bevy of politicians, including State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, who arranged a $10,000 grant to the center last year. They all expressed how the group's fundraising impressed them.
"One hundred thousand dollars in three months -- that's a ton of money for this area," Volker said.
Springville Mayor William Krebs said he looks at the project as a model.
"This shows how to renovate a building in our historic downtown," he said.