A rendering of an interior space in the future Arts Collaborative building on Main Street in Waterville. Construction on the project is starting this week, Colby College announced on Wednesday. Peter and Paula Lunder are financing almost half of the $6.5 million project, designed by architect Ryan Senatore. The building is expected to be complete by April 2021. Rendering by James Reben, Architectural Image Solutions

Colby College’s new Arts Collaborative building project is set to begin construction this week in downtown Waterville, a sign that the college’s commitment to the city will continue despite the tough times driven by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Colby President David Greene said.

Located at 14 and 20 Main St., the buildings will be turned into a hub of creativity that will offer studio space and programming for artists, students and educators from around the world.

The $6.5 million project was announced in February after Peter and Paula Lunder, formerly of Waterville, provided the project with a $3 million donation through the Lunder Foundation.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic having surged since the project’s announcement, Greene said now more than ever is the time to invest in Waterville.

“Continuing the efforts on Main Street at a time when many other places are pulling back investments in their community is really important,” Greene said during a phone call Wednesday. “We need to be with Waterville in tough times and in good times, and putting this building forward at this most difficult moment is to me another opportunity to signal, in the strongest possible way, that our commitment to investing in Waterville and bettering the lives of the people here is going to continue.”

Greene said that moving forward with the project is crucial because when the pandemic subsides, the arts collaborative building will remain.

“It’s important to think about this building not just in the next six months, or the next year or the length of time that we’ll be dealing with the pandemic,” Greene said. “The beauty of this building is that it’s here for the long haul, and it will be an important presence in the city of Waterville for the next 100 years, not just for the next several months while we’re struggling with the current crisis that we’re in.”

The construction, set to be completed in April 2021, will be done by Landry/French Construction, the same firm that’s building the Lockwood Mills Hotel across the street.

The Lockwood Mills Hotel, another of the college’s downtown projects, is set to open this fall, though its patrons will likely be Colby students as the college plans to bring them back to Waterville and spread out their accommodations.

Green said there will be upwards of 80 jobs created during the construction phase of the project.

Construction on the Arts Collaborative building on Main Street in Waterville is starting this week, Colby College announced on Wednesday. Peter and Paula Lunder are financing almost half of the $6.5 million project, designed by architect Ryan Senatore. The building is expected to be complete by April 2021. Rendering by James Reben, Architectural Image Solutions

The buildings date back to 1836 and the project intends to preserve the historical integrity of the exteriors while upgrading the mechanical, plumbing, electrical systems and interior spaces.

Greene said preserving the historic facade of the Arts Collaborative buildings will play off the modern feel of the Lockwood Hotel on the other side of the street.

“Our intention when we began this work was to be able to preserve as many of the buildings as we could,” Greene said. “We were delighted to find out that with the right construction process, we could preserve them (the buildings) … Bringing them back to life with a new purpose is a great opportunity … I love that we have that great feel of Main Street, but at the same time you get the sense of something new and exciting with the hotel building, so there’s going to be a nice complement between the buildings.”

Each floor of the Arts Collaborative will be designated for different uses.

Combining the ground floors of both buildings, the Collaborative will have a space that is focused on community access and student use. This area will have movable walls, seats and risers to hold art exhibitions, poetry readings and musical performances.

Construction on the Arts Collaborative building on the left side of Main Street in downtown Waterville across from the Lockwood Hotel will begin this week, Colby College announced on Wednesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The second and third floors will be used as art studios and creative space for local and visiting artists.

A partnership between Colby and the Maine College of Art in Portland aimed at providing artists in residence with opportunities in Waterville, including College of Art Lunder Scholars, is still in the works, Greene said.

The fourth floor of the buildings will be designated workspaces for the Lunder Institute for American Art staff, who will also manage the operation of the Collaborative.

The aim of having the Lunder Institute in the Collaborative was to attract artists from around the world to Waterville. But with mounting restrictions due to the pandemic, Greene said there are plenty of artists right here in Maine that could fill the space in the meantime.

“The beauty of all of this to me is that there are so many great artists here in Maine,” Greene said. “Even if we’re in a pandemic, we’ll be able to invite artists in from Maine if we’re not able to bring them in from other parts of the world. That would be great because there are so many great Maine-based artists that are just looking for the opportunity to work and to be able to have support to do their work.”

A rendering of an interior space in the future Arts Collaborative building on Main Street in Waterville. Construction on the project is starting this week, Colby College announced on Wednesday. Peter and Paula Lunder are financing almost half of the $6.5 million project, designed by architect Ryan Senatore. The building is expected to be complete by April 2021. Rendering by James Reben, Architectural Image Solutions

The ultimate goal of the Arts Collaborative is to add another element to Waterville’s arts community, according to Greene.

“This will create another vibrant space,” Greene said. “This will invite students and the community into a space that will be dynamic. Just imagine, the great art blocks on Main Street with Common Street Arts and the Opera House, it’s all different types of events that are coordinated. People can be out on the street going from one exhibit to a poetry reading to a live jazz performance to a major event at the Opera House. All of those things are creating a terrific environment on Main Street.”

The Arts Collaborative is another effort to revitalize downtown Waterville. Other revitalization projects include the $25.5 million Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, a renovated office building at 173 Main St. which houses Portland Pie Co.,  and the Facade and Building Improvement Grant Program from the Central Maine Growth Council.

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