‘Almost like kismet,’ Arts Center CEO says
A deal more than 10 years in the making is finally coming to fruition: the Lawrence Arts Center is purchasing the former Salvation Army building right next door, with the goal of transforming it into an arts-based early childhood center.
The acquisition also continues the broadening of the arts center’s footprint in downtown Lawrence. 10th and Mass Studios — a large performance, rehearsal, gallery and storage annex at 1000 Massachusetts St., around the corner from the main building at 940 New Hampshire St. — opened in spring 2022.
The arts center offers half-day morning and afternoon preschool and kindergarten, but capacity is limited. There are currently 75 enrolled preschoolers and 16 kindergartners, said Margaret Weisbrod Morris, Lawrence Arts Center CEO.
The expansion will allow the arts center to serve more kids as well as accommodate full-day care for parents and families who need that, Morris said.
All of that is still pretty far down the road, though. The closing date of the sale is March 31. From there, the center must go through processes to determine what kind of work the building next door at 946 New Hampshire St. will need in order to serve that purpose.
“There’s so many licensing requirements for early childhood, so we’re in the process of kind of looking at what’s possible in that space,” she said. Her preference would be to renovate and restore the existing building, for environmental reasons.
She’d also like to expand the green space between the buildings for an outdoor learning classroom, she said, though that idea is still “absolutely in the dream stage.” The space could also hold outdoor concerts and performances.
The sale of the building has been a long, slow, and complicated process spanning back at least as far as 2012. But the Salvation Army in October moved to 1202 E. 23rd St., just northeast of 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue.
Now, the timing is good for more preschool spaces as Douglas County is experiencing a child care crisis, Morris said. Available child care slots lag far behind demand: licensed facilities in the county can currently meet only 47% of the potential need, according to the Community Children’s Center.
“It’s almost like kismet that it’s happening at this moment,” Morris said.
The preschool is 40 years old and, Morris believes, one of the first if not the first arts-based early childhood programs.
“It’s really exciting for Lawrence and for the arts center to be able to expand on such a pioneering program,” Morris said.
Morris said she’d rather not disclose the price of the sale. Douglas County recently assessed the land at about $603,000 and the building at $473,000, a total of about $1.076 million.