City officials are deciding the future of the Augusta Civic Center, built in 1973 at 76 Community Drive. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — About $2 million has been set aside to replace the leaky roof at the Augusta Civic Center, but that repair is prompting a larger discussion by city officials on the much pricier proposition of bringing the 50-year-old building and its outdated systems and aesthetics into the future.

The cost to repair, refurbish and update the building at 76 Community Drive so it can continue as a convention, conference and entertainment facility that is a major economic driver for Augusta is estimated at about $33 million.

The Elvis Presley plaque in the lobby at the Augusta Civic Center memorializes a performance there when the building, built in 1973, was 4 years old and more significant to the state’s cultural landscape. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The cost could leap by another $40 million to $50 million if officials opt to have the entire structure beefed up to withstand natural disasters, meet modern code standards, and continue in the role it has served for decades as an emergency shelter for residents of the Kennebec Valley region.

At least one city councilor said Augusta should conduct a study to consider whether it would be better to build a new facility – for between $100 million and $140 million – or put more money into the dated auditorium and meeting space.

Following a lengthy recent discussion by city councilors, it appears the city will move ahead with the roof repairs, replacing the large section of roof over the auditorium and meeting space.

The roof is now leaking in many places, requiring potential clients and others who visit or tour the city-owned facility to walk around buckets and caution tape, which Margaret Noel, the Civic Center’s director, said makes for a tough sell.

Advertisement

Trash cans and a bucket are set into a walkway Saturday to catch water leaking from the roof over the auditorium at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Given the great cost, up to $50 million, the city seems unlikely to have the building’s infrastructure upgraded to Category 4 status, like the under-construction new police station. This would allow the entire civic center to continue to serve as a regional designated emergency shelter.

Multiple city councilors have expressed interest in taking a closer look at the costs to renovate the building, seeking reassurance that if Augusta were to invest more than $30 million into updating the civic center, it would get a facility that would continue to bring people and their money into Augusta.

Councilor Mike Michaud said it is nearly impossible to measure the economic impact the building has had on Augusta when hosting events – particularly north Augusta, he said, where, as a boy, he went to his first event at the building shortly after it was built. It was a large building surrounded by a large parking lot, a single restaurant – and nothing else.

The building is now surrounded by hotels, the Marketplace at Augusta shopping center and several other retail operations and restaurants.

City councilors agreed during last Thursday’s wide-ranging discussion that Augusta needs a civic center. They also said the existing building needs updating, including to its 50-year-old electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Michaud said the city should commission a study that compares the cost to refurbish the civic center, so it can function at a high level for another 50 years or more, versus what it would cost to have a new facility built.

Advertisement

Other councilors said the cost of building a new facility would be so much greater than refurbishing the civic center that the city need not conduct a study.

A broken drinking fountain Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center, which was built in 1973. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

At Mayor Mark O’Brien’s suggestion, city councilors plan to meet with representatives of an architectural firm that spent much of 2023 looking at all of Augusta’s buildings, and estimated it would cost about $33 million to make needed updates to the civic center. Councilors said they are looking to decide if they are confident in the estimates.

The Harriman Associates report, presented to city councilors in August, identified $33 million in improvements and updates needed for the facility to continue under its current use.

At-Large Councilor William Savage said he seeks reassurance the cost estimates to renovate the building are accurate and will not swell to anywhere near the cost of a new building.

“We may think we’re going into the best possible situation where we’re refurbishing for one-third of the price of replacing, but the worst possible situation is we end up peeling back the onion, realizing this is costing us more or almost as much as a brand new building,” Savage said.

“But we’re not going to get a brand-new building, we’re going to end up with a building that doesn’t afford us all the options a brand new building does.”

The roof replacement would be funded with $1.25 million received through Kennebec County in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $750,000 in borrowing by the city.

A plan has yet to be formulated for how the city would come up with the estimated $33 million to cover other improvements the civic center reportedly needs.

The Augusta Police Department Color Guard presents the colors before the Class A girls’ basketball championship in March 2023 at a packed Poulin Auditorium at the Augusta Civic Center at 76 Community Drive. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Comments are no longer available on this story