- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

The $11.7 million Center for the Performing Arts was to be the crown jewel at Bowie High School a plush performance space for school and community groups. But if the nonprofit organization charged with raising the construction funds cant come up with another $2.5 million, the center will remain just a big empty shell.

The contractor building the center, Bovis Lend Lease, frustrated with the uncertainty surrounding the project, has told school and city officials that it plans to pull its crews off the job in September before undertaking the final phase, finishing the building interior.

"It´s ´twixt and ´tween, as I understand it. They have enough money to start the construction, but not enough to finish," said Susan Smithers, an adult-age reading specialist at the Bowie Library, which is adjacent to the project.

A nonprofit volunteer organization called the Brava group was created in 1995 to undertake the task of raising — from both private and public sources — the $11.7 million needed to complete the project.

"We missed the June 16 deadline for this last round of bids, because we didn´t have the money," said Gordon Stewart, Brava president.

Members of the group now are concerned that the delays could drive the final cost up $1 million, to $12.7 million.

The group´s latest fund-raiser, selling seats and naming rights, pulled in $440,000, but the shortfall is still about $2.5 million.

The building project was designed to handle multiple stoppages of construction, Mr. Stewart said. "We had to stop two years ago due to lack of funding, so this is not a surprise. But it is an inconvenience."

"We designed it in four stages, knowing that we may have to stop along the way," he said.

The problem now is that the longer the completion of the center is put off, the higher the final tab is likely to be.

The current bids are now voided and a new bidding process must be held before the summer ends if the center is to be completed by January.

"If not, we´ll have to wait until next spring´s bid cycle to begin and another year before completion," Mr. Stewart said.

Although the center is being built in part with private funds, the Prince George´s County school system owns the land.

"The deal was that if the city of Bowie and their funders could provide the necessary funds to build the facility, we would give up the land and maintain the property once it was done," said District 6 school board member Robert J. Callahan, a Democrat.

"Comcast Cable, the Bowie Blade, and Bank of America have already bought the rights to the control room, and the auditorium hall," Mr. Stewart said. The rest of the seats in the hall may have to be sold for donations, and the organization is looking into federal and state funding to help complete the center.

"A month ago, there was a meeting with state Sen. Leo E. Green and he was prepared at that time to take the matter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening," said Prince George´s County Council member Audrey Scott, Bowie Republican.

Mrs. Scott said she has no news on whether the state will provide any funding, but that the last hope is the federal government.

"I have talked to Rep. Steny Hoyer and he is working on it," she said. But the federal money would not be available until the end of the fiscal year in October.

"Unfortunately, that would be too late. Not saying we don´t want the money, but our final recourse is to look to the city to open the coffers," Mrs. Scott said.

The center is 25 years in the making. It was first proposed and planned for in 1976, when Mr. Stewart was a student at Bowie High School.

"I´ve been waiting for it to get done since I was there, so if it takes a little longer, that´s OK," Mr. Stewart said.

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