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Future of Arts Center in Doubt : * Relocation: School district wants to reclaim the Anaheim property. Two theater groups and others now using the site have been asked to find other facilities.


ANAHEIM — The future looks grim for the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, which for 20 years has provided a home to everything from art exhibits to folk concerts.

The former elementary school at 931 N. Harbor Blvd. has been leased to the city for $1 a year by the Anaheim City School District. But the lease expires June 30 and the district has decided it wants the building back, either to use, raze or rent out at commercial rates.

Groups using the center have known for several months that they probably will have to move on. "We don't hold out a whole lot of hope," said Sylvia Bula, the center's volunteer director. "Basically," she said, the groups "were told that they would have to find their own facilities."

The center is home to two theater groups, the Ana-Modjeska Players and American Children's Theatre, to dance classes, and to exhibits sponsored by the Anaheim Art Assn. The Occasional String Band, which holds one dance and one folk concert there a month, has tried to save the center with petition drives, but the school district still says it plans to reclaim the building.

District Superintendent Meliton Lopez said the long-term lease agreement was made at a time when enrollment was shrinking. "Things have changed since then," Lopez said, and the district no longer can afford to be so generous.

The district includes 16,000 children in 21 elementary schools and has had to add 20 portable buildings in recent years, Lopez said.

The center building is a one-story structure built in 1931, with classrooms and an auditorium that now serves as a performance space.

The building no longer can be used as a school because it fails to pass earthquake safety standards. But Lopez said the district has hired a structural engineer to evaluate the building, and that its future depends on the engineer's report, due later this month.

"If it's safe, we'd like to salvage it," Lopez said. "It's a beautiful building." The district would like to move offices into the building, freeing up classroom space at another site; if that proves impractical, the district may rent the building out, but at commercial rates.

If the building is declared unsound, it may have to be razed.

Bula has said that backers might be found to purchase the building, but Lopez said that sale of the property is not currently under consideration.

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