Metropolis contemplating overhaul of Alternative Heart

The city of Monroe is considering a massive overhaul of the Opportunity Center at the Arthur Lesow Community Center and the adjoining LS Navarre Branch Library.

During a special session on Monday evening, Kohler Architecture presented the city council with a spatial analysis and a program study of the adjoining, city-owned properties near the corner of E. First and Eastchester Streets in Orchard East.

The outcome of the study is a planned renovation of the facilities and surrounding land worth $ 7 million to $ 8 million. The project calls for the nearby Monroe County Learning Bank to be demolished to make way for an entirely new structure that will be linked to the existing Opportunity Center and house the new Navarra Library, Learning Bank and a Community Living Room .

The existing Navarre Library building would be gutted and converted into the new 5,000-square-foot home of longtime Joe’s ALCC Boxing Club, which would use the space as a training and sparring facility and use the centre’s existing gym for home games.

The existing Opportunity Center building would remain largely unchanged except for the redesign of existing office space and the introduction of some additional office space.

The city recently completed several major projects in and around the center, including relocating and renovating the kitchen and weight room, and redesigning the nearby Labor Park. The Monroe County Opportunity Program (MCOP) has been running the center for the city since 2019.

The council hired Kohler to conduct the spatial analysis and programming to determine what upgrades are needed as the city and MCOP look for additional and more diverse programming options at the facility.

Woodrow Hoffer II, a design associate at Kohler, said that through discussions with stakeholders, the company has realized that the best way to approach this project is to have the Opportunity Center, Navarre Library and Learning Bank as three components of a larger one to consider campus-like complex instead of three separate units.

“From the discussions and surveys that we have conducted, we have found that it makes sense neither for the stakeholders involved, nor for the city itself or the users of the space, to view this as three separate units,” said Hoffer. “We have been looking for ways in which we can turn the programs that overlap across these institutions into a fluid institution that really becomes the center of this community, as has been the case for some time.”

Keith Kohler, Creative Design Principal and Partner at Kohler Architecture, said one of the challenges his company faced while working on this project was integrating the new facility into the existing three-story ALCC building.

“(We had to) try to figure out how to get the loop to work and meet and meet the requirements of the ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act),” Kohler said. “That was a challenge that we solved.”

The proposal council examined on Monday would give visitors to the redesigned center the opportunity to access the new building either from the ground floor or the gym of the existing facility.

“You can go from the boxing system on the south side of the building all the way through the Opportunity Center to the library or the learning bench room,” said Hoffer. “… The building functions as a building. It is really supposed to operate as a facility from 8am to 8pm, so not only part of the building would be open here or there for a few hours. It should really work as a facility. “

The planned extensions to the outside of the building include over 3,500 square meters of new public communal verandas and 2,500 square meters of rain gardens as well as external toilets for visitors to the Labor Park. Conceptual renderings showed floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking a new entrance plaza on the southeast side of the center so that residents of the new common room can see outside and vice versa. More floor-to-ceiling glass was shown on the northwest side of the building with a view of Labor Park.

Kohler and Hoffer said the proposed renovation would double the number of private offices and study rooms, and triple the conference rooms currently available at the Opportunity Center, Study Bank, and Navarre Library. In total, the addition and renovation of the existing facilities would create 5,100 square meters of new, shared communal space.

Hoffer noted that the converted Opportunity Center “really becomes a beacon” for visitors to the city exiting I-75 at Exit 13 on Front St., which will be the only freeway exit in town after Exit 14 is expected to be closed will be within the next few years.

Councilor John Iacoangeli said he was intrigued by the presentation, but added that he believed the city needed to consider acquiring some nearby land that he described as “problematic” in order for the proposed project to have the intended impact on the community.

“(These nearby lots) are a constant source of corruption in this area, and I think we need to get some extra lots to really clean up this slate and make it very effective,” said Iacoangeli. “… It’s an exciting plan, really. Very exciting. I think the concept you have with the materials, a lot of glass, a lot of color … It’s really cool, it really is.”

City manager Vince Pastue said the project would likely take at least two years. As for the award, Pastue expressed confidence that he and his team, as well as their community partners, would be able to find sources of funding to lower the real cost to the city.

City Manager’s Assistant and Economic Development Coordinator Mark Cochran said this project could “really set the tone” as the city begins work on a sub-plan for the Orchard East neighborhood and updates its Heritage Corridor Plan deals.

“I think working on this project with spatial analysis and looking at this block is very timely,” said Cochran. “… This will set the tone (as) we are looking at the lots along Winchester and in this neighborhood that need improvement.”

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