Surls art center project abandons library |

Surls art center project abandons library

John Colson

CARBONDALE — The controversial James Surls Center for Visual Art will not be moving into the old Gordon Cooper Library space in the center of town, although the committee working on the project has expressed its confidence that a new location in Carbondale will be found.

The committee announced to the town Board of Trustees on Tuesday night that “after careful review” it had concluded that the old library space was not the ideal location for the art center, which is to be devoted mainly to the work of internationally renowned sculptor James Surls, who has chosen Carbondale as his adopted home.

“We are really committed to being in Carbondale,” said Surls in a prepared statement released at the meeting.

But, the letter explained, “Our donors want to see us owning our land and building, so we can be a presence here long into the future.” The committee had won approval to lease the old library space for at least 10 years, and probably longer, under a renewal provision written into the lease contract.

“I think it’s in the best interests of the town,” said local philanthropist Jim Calaway, who has been the motivating force behind the project alongside Surls.

He said the committee currently is looking into two potential sites for a larger facility, designed expressly for the purpose of housing and displaying the art of Surls and others, along with “plenty of parking for art shows, education programs and special events,” as described in the statement.

“I can’t say that it isn’t disappointing,” remarked Mayor Stacey Bernot, but she noted that the decision presents “another opportunity for repurposed use of this public facility.”

The Surls facility won the town’s support after a lengthy, sometimes heated competition among several proposed uses, including a preschool and a performing arts studio.

Town Manager Jay Harrington told the trustees he had scheduled a work session next week to discuss the town’s course of action regarding possible uses of the library space.

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