Simi Church May House Arts Center : Culture: Council will vote on a contract next week. The vacant structure would be turned into a 300-seat theater.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The transformation of a vacant Simi Valley church into a multiuse cultural arts center could start in less than two weeks if the City Council votes Monday to award the $2.55-million construction contract to a Van Nuys building firm.

Tri-Con Contractors Inc. of Van Nuys turned in the lowest of six bids, promising to revamp the inside of the Old Methodist Church for $2.65 million by February, 1995. The church is at 3050 Los Angeles Ave.

But city planners shaved $100,000 off the price after recalculating the cost and securing a promise from local sound-system manufacturer Cerwin-Vega to donate $54,000 worth of speakers and amplifiers to the project.

If the City Council approves Tri-Con's bid, plans call for workers to transform the main church into a 300-seat theater, complete with a stage that includes room for backdrops and lights. The basement would be made over into a meeting room that could double as a smaller theater.

Workers also will repair vandalized stained-glass windows with glass taken from other windows at the church, then build enclosed light fixtures behind the restored panes so the windows will shine to the outside world and keep street noise from getting inside.

Work on the 1920s-vintage building--which has served as church, synagogue and mortuary--will begin May 23, pending council approval, city planners said.

Already, the building is being envisioned by some members of the commission appointed to oversee it as a foothold for the growth of Simi Valley's long-frustrated arts community.

"I see this as the beginning of some exciting times culturally," said Dudley Wynkoop, an architect whom the City Council named Monday as one of five members of the Cultural Arts Center Commission.

Wynkoop said he believes the city eventually will need a larger theater and perhaps even a fine-arts museum as Simi Valley's arts community grows and residents begin to support it.

"I think (Simi Valley) needs a real theater in order to accommodate popular performances like Broadway plays," he said. "Something in the order of 1,300 seats--not to compete with Thousand Oaks' (Civic Arts Plaza) but to complement it."

Lee Altmar, another commission member, said even by itself the new Cultural Arts Plaza will give room for actors, singers, dancers, painters, photographers and other artists to show their work and enrich the city.

"We're looking forward to bringing in some really good culture and . . . events to tie our community together," said Altmar, a mortgage company systems analyst and part-time actor who moved here from Santa Barbara last year.

"Simi Valley is one of the safest places to live," he said. "And yet there isn't that binding together that normally happens in a community through a cultural center."

Councilwoman Judy Mikels, a longtime supporter of the project, agreed that if the commission can help make the center self-sustaining, it could lead to construction of other arts centers in Simi Valley.

"For years, I have said that once we had the sticks-and-bricks project, that the rest would materialize," Mikels said Friday. The city has already lost the Santa Susanna Repertory Company to the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, where the troupe will open a performance of "Man of LaMancha" in the small theater, she said.

There is room at Simi Valley's Civic Center site next to City Hall for a theater of about 1,000 seats, but residents will have to decide whether they want to see it built at an estimated cost of $17 million, she said.

"If in fact the arts community and support for the arts community grows consistently, they will outgrow that 300 seats" at the Cultural Arts Center, Mikels said. "If in fact the mood of the community is in 10 or 15 years that they wish to build a facility like that, it could very well happen."

In the meantime, money from the Community Development Agency has already been set aside to repair and transform the Old Methodist Church, Mikels said, and the commission is expected to work with the arts community to raise money to operate the center.

Wynkoop, Altmar and the other members of the commission--Peggy Sadler, Sharon Stewart and Jay Bloom--are expected to meet next week to begin plotting the center's future.

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