Inside the Auburn Schine Theater

A view of the interior of the Auburn Schine Theater from its balcony in 2015.

The Citizen file

After years of anticipation, workers are set to begin removing the asbestos inside the Auburn Schine Theater Monday.

The building's owner, the Cayuga County Arts Council, made the announcement Thursday after City Manager Jeff Dygert spoke about the work at that evening's Auburn City Council meeting. Dygert said it will require closure of the sidewalk in front of the South Street theater, as well as some nearby parking spots. The work is expected to continue through the end of January. 

The arts council is partnering with Bowers Development, of Syracuse, in the theater renovation project. Bowers awarded the asbestos contract to Sessler Environmental Services, of Rochester.

Friday, Bowers Vice President Eric Smithers said Sessler's work will entail some shoring up of the 1938 art deco structure to ensure the safety of its crew, then removing all asbestos, mold and lead paint inside. According to Sessler's building occupancy notification, the Schine's floor tile and mastic, spackle and plaster, piping and roofing contain the hazardous materials.

"It's pretty straightforward," Smithers said. "There's a lot involved in terms of work, it's not that complicated, but we just gotta do it."

The work will be supported by $800,000 in federal funds allocated through June amendments to the city of Auburn's 2016-2017 Community Development Block Grant Action Plan.

In its announcement, the Cayuga County Arts Council said the Schine will begin its transformation into a civic center after its hazardous materials are removed. The council and Bowers plan to install a glass display case in the theater's lobby, restrooms accessible to people with disabilities, tiered seating and new concession and bar areas.

The council and Bowers are also working to line up funding for the rest of the theater's restoration. They submitted a Consolidated Funding Application for $1.2 million from the state this summer, and the Schine has been designated a priority project in this year's Central New York Regional Economic Development Council plan. Funding announcements will be made in December.

The state funds could push the Schine's restoration further toward the finish line than expected: Bowers and the council listed the project's budget as $6 million in the CNY Regional Economic Development Council's 2017-2018 Progress Report. The two had previously stated the budget could reach as high as $12 million, most recently at a Wednesday Morning Roundtable in September.

"We're hoping to get it done for much less than $12 million, but we won't know until we can get in (the building)," Smithers said, referring to the building becoming safe for entry upon removal of its hazardous materials. He continued, "The way we're structuring it, we might be able to get it done for $6 million. That's the goal."

Another question remains the nature of the Cayuga County Arts Council's partnership with Bowers Development.

The council at first indicated that it would sell the Schine to Bowers, then said it would transfer ownership of the building to a limited liability company jointly owned by the two organizations. At the Wednesday Morning Roundtable, though, Smithers said that Bowers owns Schine Theater LLC, and that "we're going to own the real estate."

Still, any change in the Schine's ownership would require the approval of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. In a letter from the office to council Chair Ed Onori Aug. 23, obtained by The Citizen through a Freedom of Information Law request, Regional Grants Administrator Jean M. Egenhofer said the council is bound by a preservation covenant until July 25, 2036.

Until then, the letter said, the council "shall not sell, lease or otherwise convey in any manner or permit a change in use of the project, in whole or in part," without state approval. The rule is a condition of the council's receipt of state funds for the Schine project between the years of 1996 and 2013, Egenhofer wrote.

Friday, a representative of the office said it has not yet received an application to approve the transfer.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox

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