Guest editorial: Use of historic church building in Caro mischaracterized

The Student Celebration event in the building on June 9, 2016. Officials say the building is too unsafe to hold an open house now. (Submitted photo)

The Student Celebration event in the building on June 9, 2016. Officials say the building is too unsafe to hold an open house now. (Submitted photo)

After 15 years running almost all the events at the Thumb Area Center for the Arts (TACA), I left to attend graduate school in September 2016. Alongside many others, I sacrificed nonstop to provide a vibrant arts presence in our community. After reading Wednesday’s article about potentially razing Caro’s registered historic Joy Street church, I am bitterly offended by City Council’s and new City Manager’s untrue characterization of TACA’s use of the building. Despite the fact that for nearly 25 years TACA has rented Trinity Episcopal Church (featuring nationally registered stained glass windows), no one at TACA was alerted to either Council’s plans or the public comment session scheduled for April 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building.
Contrary to quotes by Mr. Greene, Mr. Piche, and Mr. Henry, the TACA building engages HUNDREDS of people annually for play rehearsals, performances, concerts, art classes, community events, and partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, and schools across Tuscola County. Many couples were married there, and countless community groups borrowed or rented the space for public events. It is NOT a glorified storage facility for TACA’s stuff!
Though no one from City Council has attended events at the building in recent history (some never have), it’s worth noting that almost all of them have personal connections to the building’s use. Ms. Kish’s ballet prodigy son performed on TACA’s stage. Mr. Taggett’s late brother, Gene, built many TACA props and sets. His nephew, Gil Taggett, currently in his third year playing Oliver Warbucks in the Broadway National Tour of Annie, began his acting and directing career on the building’s stage. Mr. Henry, as head of the Pumpkin Festival, negotiated a two-year partnership with TACA after his committee attended a successful art show in the building, then insisted the event move elsewhere. Mr. Greene, a long-time member of the Caro Knights of Columbus, worked at multiple bi-annual dinner theater productions, a nearly 40-year partnership that at times kept both organizations afloat. Greene knows that rehearsals were held at the historical building two-three times per week with cast sizes between 10 and 100 people. Because Ryan Piche just moved here from another state, and has never been to a TACA event, I question his ability to comment with authority on either the building’s use or attendance.
Particularly concerning is Mr. Piche’s claim that the building is not safe to hold a public comment session. If it is that hazardous, then why wasn’t TACA contacted about dangers to its board and patrons, who use the building year-round? Who determined the building is unsafe for public use, and when? Why did the building’s renters have to find out about this from a news article? Yes, the tower is a serious problem, as is the paint and roof; none of this is new information. City Council has been aware of—and ignored—it for years. Approximately 10 years ago, I researched historic building preservation grants that would have fixed many issues. The City didn’t move on them. There are still grants available through the Michigan Historic Preservation office. When the City obtained the Roadhouse Museum located near the Tuscola County Fairgrounds, City Council permanently funneled part of the historic church’s annual building budget to the new museum’s budget.
According to Wednesday’s article, the Council plans to garner public support using a photo presentation and 2009 repair quote for $400,000. However, TACA helped fund a roof repair several years ago, and paid to upgrade a small portion of electrical to 220, thus rendering the eight-year-old quote invalid. I’m not suggesting that the figure is wrong; frankly, it might be more at this point. My concern is they are presenting invalid information and flippantly downplaying 25 years of participation in the building by hundreds of children, teens, and adults. Doctors, judges, teachers, veterans, and people of all ages and backgrounds have volunteered there, together. At the very least, our elected officials should take responsibility for their part in creating this situation. In the “About Caro” section of the city’s website, it reads, “The community is home to many historic buildings and is proud of its rich history.”
Prove it.

Mary Penn of Caro
Former TACA Board Member/Executive Director

Filed in: Opinion, Featured Articles, Rotating Features, Editorials Tags: , , , , , ,

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