On Tuesday, the Ford Center Board of Directors, Mayor Pat Vaughn, City Manager Brad Hulsey and staff from CROY Engineering toured the construction site, navigating around the tall metal framework stuffed with pink insulation.
The former school’s campus has gained new city buildings and received constant renovations over the past 12 years.
In 1997, the Ford Center Board of Directors was placed in charge of the operation, maintenance, renovation and future development of the four-building city complex at 4181 Atlanta St., about four blocks from downtown Powder Springs.
Vaughn said progress on the entire center reached a lull when Powder Springs ran out of money for the project in 2008.
She said the city purchased the materials to erect the performance space, but was more than $300,000 short on construction costs and had to wait until bond and SPLOST money became available.
Don Hicks of CROY Engineering said the construction firm was contracted to build the 7,000-square-foot theater with a 28- by 22-foot stage for $383,000.
CROY will receive $9,987 for managing the project, Hulsey said.
Hicks said the site plan was approved at the beginning of 2013. Construction started a month ago, and the project is expected to be completed within 90 days.
CROY will also oversee the installation of the lighting, a projection screen and audio system, Hicks said.
Vaughn said seeing the theater being built is “a dream come true” and is thrilled after being part of the whole process.
Hicks said giving the board a tour is important so its members can be aware of the progress being made with each phase of the construction.
The Cultural Arts Center will present a grand opening gala in October, which will coincide with the celebration of Powder Springs 175th anniversary, Vaughn said.
The theater offers a range of options in seating for events, including a setup of tables that can seat a total of 128 people, or rows of chairs that can reach the maximum capacity of 240 people, according to Hicks.
Vaughn said she envisions a space for plays as well as a venue for talent shows, mystery dinner theater, recitals, art exhibitions and receptions.
Vaughn added that residents of Powder Springs enjoy participating in the arts.
“We have a great deal of talent,” Vaughn said.
Jazimine Dudley, who moved to Powder Springs from New York City six months ago with her three children, said the community will make good use of the new performance space.
“Anywhere where kids can express themselves is a good outlet,” Dudley said.
In 1990, the Cobb School District gifted a 4.5 acre property that once housed the old Powder Springs Elementary School to the city to be used for cultural activities.
The buildings date to 1917, but Hulsey said most of the original structure was taken down.
Over the past two decades, an entire new complex has been placed on the property.
“It has a little bit of that old-school flavor, even though it is a new building,” Hulsey said.
Vaughn said some of the first members on the Ford Center Board of Directors were former faculty members or students of the elementary school and they gave excellent input on how best to honor the space.
Rounds of continuous additions and renovations have been completed at the community space using federal and state grants, as well as local bonds and SPLOST money, totaling $3.2 million, according to Hulsey.
Original classrooms were converted to a senior living center that was on the property when it was donated, Hulsey said.
The senior living space is in the midst of renovations that will be completed this fall.
The school cafeteria was demolished and replaced with a reception hall that opened in March 2002 to play host to community functions and meetings of the South Cobb Area Council for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
This year, the reception hall was updated with a new roof and flooring from 2011 SPLOST funding, Hulsey said.
Vaughn said the complex has been a dream of hers since she first joined the Powder Springs City Council in 1995.
“From the time I first saw (the school building), I had this vision … but we didn’t have any money,” Vaughn said.
She said the fight for funding began by traveling to Washington, D.C., in 2001 to get a grant for $429,000.
Vaughn said as the first chair of the Ford Center Board of Directors she was given leeway and “was able to run with ideas.”
For instance, Vaughn always wanted Powder Springs to have a new library and campaigned on that promise before being elected mayor in 2004.
The Powder Springs public library was erected in 2007 in the front section of the center’s property and is the major entrance welcoming visitors.
The project resulted from a $1 million city bond, with Cobb County adding another $712,000, said Hulsey.
The center is named after the Coach George E. Ford, who was a local coach and a devoted member on the City Council for many years, Vaughn said.
Vaughn affectionately used a thick Southern accent while quoting Ford.
“Coach” joked that when the original building was dedicated in his name, it was “falling down.”
Vaughn said Ford saw the completion of the recreation center before he died in 2002 of heart failure.