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Residents pack School Town of Munster meeting to save Center for Visual and Performing Arts

MUNSTER, Ind. (April 10, 2024) – Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the large crowd that attended the April 8 meeting of the School Town of Munster Board of Trustees, with many in attendance having the fate of The Center for Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) on their minds.

News broke last month that the School Town of Munster was considering the purchase of the property at 1040 Ridge Road from The Community Foundation of Northwest Indiana, partially to provide new space for administrative offices.

The CVPA has since 1989 provided live theatre performances and a banquet facility for those in Munster and the surrounding area, in addition to serving as home for South Shore Arts and the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra.

Although consideration of the purchase of the CVPA was not on Monday’s agenda, a public hearing regarding a $62 million bond that could be used to help purchase and renovate the facility was conducted.

“The thought of this going away clearly upsets a lot of folks” – the superintendent speaks

Superintendent Bret Heller addressed the crowd at the start of the meeting to make the School Town’s position clear and to dispel any rumors.

Munster School Board President John Doherty (left) and Superintendent Bret Heller listen to public comments against a possible purchase of the CVPA during an April 8 meeting. (Photo: Paul Czapkowicz)

He said a constant challenge the School Town has faced is limited availability of property, which hurts the ability to address traffic flow, parking, and any kind of facility expansion.

“The prospect of potentially acquiring seven acres of property on Ridge Road connected to our existing property holdings was intriguing and we decided to pursue that further to at least see if it made any sense,” Heller said.

He said a number of walk-throughs have been conducted and various options have been explored regarding how the building and surrounding property can be utilized while trying to retain as many of the art programs as possible.

He said the determined asking price of about $5.5 million the School Town would have to pay is significantly below market value.

Heller said having declared an interest in the property, the School Town is now in the process of collecting data and listening to feedback from people in and outside of the community.

“We do, contrary maybe to some of the things you may read online, understand and acknowledge the importance of this facility to many people both in Munster and in the region at large,” Heller said. “We agree that a strong, functioning arts center can be a high level asset for the community. And the thought of this going away clearly upsets a lot of folks.”

When the School Town began exploring a possible purchase, he said, it was with the understanding there were no other interested parties willing to maintain current programming at the CVPA.

“We were very concerned about the prospect of potentially commercial developers or somebody else coming into that property and doing whatever they wanted with it and it being completely removed from the community,” Heller said.

“Not a done deal”

Heller believes it is just as probable the School Town will not purchase the property as that it will, and does not anticipate any action on the matter until the School Board’s regular May meeting at the earliest.

“This is not a done deal,” Heller said. “It is quite possible in the coming weeks that we make the decision that this is not in the best interest of School Town of Munster or the community at large.”

Public comments

Not all left the meeting pleased as the public comment portion of the meeting was capped at 30 minutes.

A dozen or so people were able to express their opposition to the School Town’s potential purchase of the CVPA, which would almost certainly mean an end to theatrical and musical performances by professional actors, along with no more weddings and Sunday champagne brunches.

Among those who addressed the School Board was longtime Munster resident Carol Moore, who mentioned the number of people who would lose their jobs if the CVPA were to close and nearby businesses that would be impacted.

“It’s an asset,” Moore said. “It brings people into the Town of Munster. And if you take away an asset, it hurts the community.”

Center for Visual and Performing Arts
Carol Moore, of Munster, addresses the Munster School Board in opposition to the School Town’s possible purchase of the CVPA. (Photo: Paul Czapkowicz)

Corinne Keleher, of Lansing, volunteers at the CVPA and attended Monday’s meeting.

She wants to see the CVPA continue with all its entities, including the art gallery, intact.

“We have to save the arts and our culture,” Keleher said.

No one who addressed the School Board spoke in favor of a potential purchase of the CVPA by the School Town of Munster.

COVID made the theatre at the CVPA go dark in 2020, but the facility reopened in August 2022 and began doing special events and concert programming. But the once popular subscription series of five big main stage shows annually has not restarted since the COVID closure.

Many people also attended a Munster Town Council meeting on March 18 to express similar views regarding a desire to save the CVPA.

Contacted prior to that meeting, Munster Clerk-Treasurer Wendy Mis said it is not out of the question that the town might purchase the property.

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Paul Czapkowicz
Paul Czapkowicz
Paul Czapkowicz has served as a correspondent for the Northwest Indiana Times, so he is familiar with local politics, local business, and local goings-on in general. His training as a teacher gives him an innate sense of how to present facts in an organized and meaningful way, so readers gain understanding of complex subjects.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The question not being asked is why is the hospital selling the property? Why are they not reopening the building for events and theater? They shut it down for Covid-19 to never reopen?

  2. I’m curious, has the Lansing Journal tried to contact the Community Foundation regarding the sale? The only news articles I can find just quote Mr. Fesko talking about the history of the hospital, nothing about the decision to sell the CVPA.

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