The Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney is hoping to expand its children’s program offerings and renovate its amphitheater so it can host larger concerts in an effort to aid the cultural revitalization of the Augusta and Waterville areas.

The center, which is run by the New England Music Camp Association, has applied for funding assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program. A small part of the funding, which is offered to for-profit and nonprofit businesses looking to expand for the benefit of a rural community, would be a grant, while the majority would be a loan.

The association held a public meeting on its application Thursday, which is a required part of the process.

The $1.5 million — about $25,000 in grants and the rest in loans — would be used to finish construction of a classroom building for various programs and to renovate the amphitheater so that it can host much larger events. It also would be used to consolidate loans for both the association and the Snow Pond Arts Academy, a charter school that leases facilities and other services from the association, according to John Wiggin, the association’s executive director.

The school has multiple loans, Wiggin said, including an amount the association lent it, and the federal funding will allow it to consolidate the loans into one with a lower interest rate.

“Which means more of the current budget will go to the kids,” he said, adding later, “The first year is very hard.”

The charter school, which has about 140 students enrolled so far for 2017, is adopting a new academic model for its second year after a Maine Charter School Commission review team cited concerns about a lack of administrators, a $40,000 budget deficit, a lack of training for teachers trying to incorporate arts education into a lesson plan and a lack of clear testing schedules.

The rest of the federal money would go toward projects that both the association and the school would benefit from.

The classroom building, which is partially built, will be used by the school during the day and then the association from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. for a new after-school program called Snow Pond Enrichment.

The construction and technology costs $700,000, but the association needs only $250,000 from the funding, as most of the cost has been covered through fundraising.

The program, scheduled to start in September, will provide a structured schedule of academic help, recreational time and music instruction, evenly split. The tuition will be graded based on income, Wiggin said, ranging from $10 to $70 per week.

“My gut tells me that this program will have the biggest impact of any of our programs,” Wiggin said.

Both Regional School Unit 18 and the Augusta School Department are assisting the program by providing transportation to Sidney for their students.

“We’re piloting this program here, but ideally we would like each school system to have a program,” Wiggin said. He is working with Augusta to see if the program could be integrated into the city’s current after-school program as early as the following school year.

The after-school program falls in line with what the association and the charter school hope to do, which is bridge the “achievement gap” between the suburban and rural areas.

“There is something about learning to play an instrument that connects the dots in the brain,” he said.

The amphitheater project is expected to cost about $550,000, Wiggin said, though they’ve budgeted for $600,000.

The current structure was built in 1930 and is one of the largest outdoor stages in the country. Some of the work will be reinforcing the stage, as it’s started to “lean a little bit toward the lake,” he said, and the foundation has cracked in places.

Money also will go toward upgrading the Bowl, adding infrastructure so it can hold more speakers and project sound. The goal is to create a venue similar to the one used for waterfront concerts in Bangor, Wiggin said.

Eventually, the association will hold concerts for 4,000 to 6,000 people, he said, depending on what they’re told after a site review for safety. Right now, it holds concerts for up to 1,500 people.

The hope is to have the venue ready for the larger concerts in the summer of 2019, Wiggin said.

The association took on the project to benefit the communities, he said.

“If we do 10 shows of 5,000 people, that’s 50,000 that are going to be coming to central Maine,” he said.

Part of the federal money will go toward hiring an economic analyst to look at the potential impact. He said they estimate each show could generate $300,000 to $400,000 in revenue outside the gates for the Augusta and Waterville areas.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on, trying to create a much more vibrant and creative community,” Wiggin said, mentioning the movement to revitalize downtown Waterville.

Most importantly, he said, the money the association makes from the events can go back to their programs.

“We’re a nonprofit. The money goes to the kids,” he said. “It buys us more instruments. It buys us more scholarships. It buys us more teachers.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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