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Carnegie supporters efforts lauded at arts center groundbreaking
Carnegie pic3
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Carnegie Arts Center Timeline

·         1916: The Carnegie Arts Center opens its doors in Turlock

·         2005: Renovations begin on the arts center

·         Nov. 22, 2005: The center is almost destroyed in an arson fire

·         April 2010: City Council approves bid for Carnegie reconstruction

·         May 21, 2010: Groundbreaking ceremony

Nearly five years — and innumerable political battles — after an arson fire destroyed Turlock’s Carnegie Arts Center, ground was broken Friday on a new, expanded facility.

“It’s buildings like the Carnegie that define communities,” said Turlock City Arts Commission Chairman Dustin Soiseth.

The $5.1 million project will reconstruct the burned out shell of the old Carnegie Library while adding a new building with additional gallery space and multi-purpose rooms.

But the technical details of the Carnegie Arts Center don’t convey the true importance of the project, according to Turlock City Councilwoman Mary Jackson. 

“It’s not about the building, it’s about the people and the community who live here,” Jackson said.

Upon completion, the 18,360 square-foot building will not only host plays, concerts, and banquets almost every week of the year. It will also become a focal point of downtown Turlock according to supporters, providing much-needed entertainment and revitalizing a dilapidated corner of town.

The project has seen its share of detractors over the past five years and tens of Turlock City Council meetings. The Carnegie renovation has been derided as too pricy — given an initial $7.8 million estimate in 2007 — and of limited utility to many of Turlock’s residents.

But proponents disagreed loudly throughout the planning process, packing City Hall to convey that the whole community will be able to enjoy the myriad events at the Carnegie.

Jackson said the community’s perseverance in the face of detractors is a credit to the citizens of Turlock.

The Turlock City Council’s commitment to fund the project was also lauded. While the City of Turlock’s Redevelopment Agency is currently cash-strapped following a state seizure of redevelopment funds, the Carnegie reconstruction is just too important to pass up, proponents said.

Former Turlock Mayor Curt Andre agreed, saying that bad fiscal times are when projects like the Carnegie are most important to a community. He referenced Winston Churchill who, during World War II, denied sacrificing arts funding to bolster the military.

“If we give up our funding for children and for the arts, then what are we fighting for?” Andre asked, paraphrasing Churchill.

Friday’s groundbreaking drew nearly 100 supporters who have been with the project for years, including past and present mayors, arts facilitators and general community members. Even representatives from Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA 18th) and State Senator Jeff Denham’s (R-Merced) offices were on hand, offering official proclamations to commemorate the historic event.

Patty O’Donnell, president of the Carnegie Arts Center Foundation, said Friday’s groundbreaking demonstrated that Turlock isn’t the sort of community to give up on its dreams. She said the event proved Turlock values the arts.

And O’Donnell said she’s glad she lived long enough to see it, listing numerous supporters who passed before they could witness Friday’s groundbreaking.

But it was only due to the efforts of everyone involved, O’Donnell said to the crowd, even those who were no longer with us, that the Carnegie Arts Center became a reality.

“It really has been a long journey for all of us, but we did it,” O’Donnell said. “You did it.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.