After an April 9 “walk through” of the old Crosby School by city representatives, the Belfast City Council approved hiring an engineering firm to make a formal evaluation of the building as a potential site for an events and performing arts venue.

The council took up the issue at a special meeting held on April 27, approving a proposal by Lincoln/Haney Engineering Associates that would include, in addition to a thorough inspection of the building’s structure, mechanical facilities and safety accommodations, a “conceptual design related the reconfiguration of existing spaces for possible change of use,” an estimate of annual operating costs, and a determination of the feasibility and cost of creating an opening to allow passage between the building’s two theater spaces.

The evaluation is anticipated to cost $16,500.

The building, currently owned by the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, had until recently been dismissed in the search for a suitable location for a performance and events facility because it was assumed to be unavailable. The theater-configuration of the roughly 300-seat theater would have also limited the types of uses, which expanded in the conceptual stages to include, in addition to performances, weddings, trade shows and conferences.

Proponents of the Belfast Civic Center, as the project is currently known, have said they want the city to buy Mathews Brother former showroom on Spring Street and fund an initial renovation of the building.

Councilor Marina Delune recently said that she had been in conversation with a representative of NTWH who indicated a willingness to consider selling the building to the city.

On April 28, City Councilor Mike Hurley spoke about the decision to hire an engineer, saying that the city is looking at both buildings as options.

“Clearly what’s great about [Mathews Bros.],” he said, “is that you can have 450 people show up for a conference on something, they can listen to a presentation, go to break-out rooms, then all sit down to dinner together all in the same building. You can’t do that at Crosby.”

Hurley described the former Crosby School as “complex” by comparison with the Mathews Bros. building, which is newer and has more of the structure and mechanical systems visible.

Regardless of the outcome of the study, Hurley anticipated that the city would have some involvement with that building in the future, whether as an event center, residences, offices or something else.

Mayor Walter Ash said the city is still considering both buildings. “We’re just looking at it to see how much it would cost. That’s all it’s about,” he said.

Councilor Lewis Baker said he believes there is little public support for converting the Mathews Bros. building, but he supported looking at the Crosby School in the belief that people see it as “a reasonable alternative” to the Mathews Bros. building.

Hurley said he was aware of people who thought the event center was a bad idea, “but not at Crosby,” he said.