A large economic boon is in the works for Marshalltown through a renovation of the Fisher Community Center. Not only will it bring back meeting space for residents, but the prospects of art-enthusiastic tourists coming to Marshalltown is huge.
Enhancing Marshalltown is what the $6 million renovation of the building is intended for when construction on the interior begins this fall.
The Fisher Community Center is closed right now due to extensive derecho damage, but it will reopen as the Marshalltown Arts & Civic Center — or the MAC — home of the Fisher Art Museum and the Martha Ellen Tye Playhouse.
Karn Gregoire, who sits on the Fisher Governor Board of Trustees and is the project coordinator, said they contacted the Fisher family to ensure they were comfortable with removing the Fisher name from the building.
Gregoire said Bill Fisher’s intention in donating the building and the art collection to Marshalltown was intended to enhance and enrich the community.
“The family’s position was if this is going to enhance and provide a larger impact for Marshalltown, that is what we should do,” she said.
The hope is to reopen the building next year. However, Gregoire said in today’s environment, that might be an unrealistic expectation.
When completed, the building will house five community conference rooms and an improved auditorium. The wall on the gym stage will be moved forward and will make the stage an extension of the Martha Ellen Tye Playhouse backstage.
Gregoire said a full-size catering kitchen will be built, which will expand the opportunities to host various events. Consultants have been hired to create the blueprint for the kitchen.
A new roof has already been placed on the building and $500,000 worth of asbestos has been removed.
That is all part of Phase 1, which has been a scramble as Gregoire said they are fundraising for the project while the work is ongoing. The reason for that is the insurance company will only pay for a set period of time. The insurance company has provided $1 million for the $6 million project.
The board has figured out what the floor plan is going to look like and improvements which need to be made.
“I am absolutely grateful for the dedication in moving the project forward,” she said. “This is being pulled off by a group of volunteers. That’s dedication.”
Phase 2 of the project will tackle the Martha Ellen Playhouse at a cost of $4.5 million.
“The improvements we are making to the theater are consistent with what we are doing now,” she said.
For instance, the stage floor was damaged by water coming in after the derecho. Gregoire said new carpeting has to be installed. The railings going up the stairs have to be upgraded for safety.
This is where handicapped-accessible bathrooms will be located in a built-out section as there are no handicapped accessible facilities. Gregoire said the planning for the theater has been thought out and work will carefully move forward. Included in Phase 2 will be lifts for handicapped individuals.
“The cost for that right now is prohibitive,” she said. “To do it at this phase — at Phase 1 — does not make sense, but those will be coming.”
There are multiple aspects of bringing the facility back to the residents of Marshalltown. One of those has been identifying who the tenants are going to be. Those include the Marshall County Arts & Culture Alliance, United Way of Marshalltown, the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation and the Community Foundation of Marshall County.
“We intentionally brought those groups together,” Gregoire said. “The synergy that they are going to play is going to have a much larger impact on our community.”
For example, she said if someone seeks assistance from United Way, but the requirements are not met, they could easily be sent to Martha Ellen or the Community Foundation.
“This is going to be easier for the public to access these resources,” Gregoire said.
Through the presence of the Arts & Culture Alliance, she said there might be opportunity for future exhibits. With the Fisher Art Museum in the same facility, Gregoire said that is where the Alliance belongs.
“When the facility reopens, the arts will be the heartbeat of the facility,” said Alliance Executive Director Amber Danielson. “We are excited about all the possibilities that will come with calling the MAC home.”
The Green Room, which was the art museum previously, used to showcase all of the pieces at the same time, year-round. Gregoire said that will never happen again.
“It is important for paintings to rest and not just be hung on the wall,” she said. “They will be stored in a very secure area and half will be exhibited at a time. So, we will have a changing experience. The museum itself will have movable walls.”
The Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce and the Senior Citizens Center will not return as tenants. Gregoire said the Chamber is looking at other locations and the Senior Citizens Center was only intended to be a temporary tenant.
When it is time for the Marshalltown Arts & Civic Center to reopen, Gregoire said there will indeed be a celebration.
“I just have to believe that Bill and Dorothy Fisher and Martha Ellen Tye are all smiling right now,” she said. “I believe in my heart that what we are doing is following their vision and respectfully enhancing their incredible generosity to this community. It is humbling and an honor to serve in this capacity and to have the volunteers.”
The Martha Ellen Tye Foundation did provide its third ever $1 million grant for the project at the end of May for the Fisher Community Center renovation, and was the last grant Karn Gregoire worked on when she was the foundation executive director.
“The Tye Foundation is behind this 100 percent,” Gregoire said. “I am humbled by the generosity of the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation.”
The grant provided by the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation kicked off a $3 million fundraising effort.
“The Foundation is thrilled to see the renovation of this iconic building. The work has been driven by a dedicated group of volunteers,” Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation President Matt Fisher said. “This facility and theater are going to be a tremendous asset for Marshalltown and will be a welcomed homecoming for the restored art collection.”
Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or [email protected].