The historic downtown post office building in North Platte has been standing for over 100 years since 1913. In 2008, the Creativity Unlimited Arts Council (CUAC), based out of North Platte, bought the historic post office from the city. CUAC wanted to help restore the building, which is registered with the Nebraska State Historical Society, and make it wholly accessible to the community for the purpose of public events and art education and outreach.
The goal is to completely move the Prairie Arts Center into the historic building. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money they received is helping them achieve this goal, which, in turn, will lead to community-wide access to the center, for those living in North Platte, as well as western Nebraska.
The overall renovation project is comprehensive for the building, totaling approximately $3.2 million. The CDBG money represents the first phase of this project. $300,000 was awarded in CDBG monies, with $148,995 leveraged by local money, raised through donation campaigns held by CUAC. The project is benefiting a total of 9,458 residents of which 4,824 are low-to-moderate income persons.
The project’s first phase consisted of removing barriers from the building to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and increase access to the building. This included installing new stairs and a new elevator, and adding a handicap accessible restroom. Additionally, each floor of the building is being renovated. The project is a partnership between the CUAC and Mid-Plains Community College; the college hopes to hold classes in the building’s basement, thereby making the center accessible to community members for broader educational activities as well. The scope of future improvements for the arts center reaches beyond accessibility improvements. These include building a new entrance and sculpture garden, as well as adding an art gallery and classroom. The first two floors of the building are projected to be open for use by summer 2015.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held December 12, 2013. Although the project still has progress to be made, the ceremony celebrated the completion of some classrooms, studios, restrooms, a wood shop, and the elevator (provided by CDBG money).
The Prairie Arts Center project shows that CDBG monies can be used by communities to create partnerships between cities, local organizations, and even educational institutions all across the state. With the growing importance of preserving the arts, projects like this one show the state’s dedication to fostering opportunities to increase access to art education and community growth through the arts.