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Planning commission approves new arts center application

Plans for a new arts center in Woodbury are almost complete.

The Woodbury Planning Commission approved a plan Monday by the South Washington County School District and the Arts Connection to build Merrill Arts Center at East Ridge High School.

The plan is to build a 10,000 square-foot, two-story addition to the school that will consist of a black box theater, scene shop, classroom, gallery and office space for the Arts Connection group.

The building design will match the school's existing brick and glass exterior as well as tree canopy on the outside.

Michelle Witte, vice president for the Arts Connection, said bidding opens Thursday for the $4.1 million project, with District 833 School Board set to approve a project agreement the same day.

"If bids are as we hope they would be, then construction would start after East Ridge graduation," she added.

Planning Commission members questioned whether the agreement between the Arts Connection and the School Board had been finalized and what that memorandum entails.

Witte explained that Arts Connection will be a tenant in the building to be maintained by the school district. The group will donate 10 percent of all ticket revenue to the school. Half of the 10 percent allotment will be put into a fund for capital improvement costs.

It will be a formal tenant/landlord relationship, she said, with Arts Connection as the primary user for the space but with opportunity for other groups to utilize it as well. Students will also have access to the center during the school day.

"It's been a really great journey of defining use and sharing," she said.

The black box theater will have a flexible stage setting with no fixed seating, Witte said. It will seat up to 150 people.

The current Loft Stage at East Ridge High School was built with two knockout walls to allow for the expansion, Witte added. The school was chosen for the project because of its availability of space.

The arts center is named after Dorothy Merrill, a Woodbury resident whose final wishes were to contribute to the community.

In addition to Merrill's $1.6 million endowment, the Arts Connection raised the rest of the funds.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.