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MU Awards $10.8 million contract for downtown visual arts center

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For The State Journal

HUNTINGTON — The Marshall University Board of Governors has approved a $10.8 million contract for transforming a long-vacant downtown department store into a new visual arts center.

Neighborgall Construction Co. of Huntington won the contract with a low bid of $10,873,000, the only bid submitted that was less than $11 million.

The Board of Governors unanimously approved the $10.8 million contract even though it was more than $800,000 over Marshall's pre-bid estimate of $10 million. Recent construction bids for MU's new soccer stadium and engineering complex also topped their pre-bid estimates.

Marshall President Stephen Kopp told the board that recent bids on other higher education projects across the state are coming in an average of 10 percent higher than estimated. Despite the higher costs, Marshall must move forward, Kopp said.

The new center will be located in the former Stone & Thomas department store building on Third Avenue across from Pullman Square in downtown Huntington. It will house the university's visual and graphic arts programs, offices for faculty, studios and gallery space. The design plan includes rental space for commercial use.

Donald Van Horn, dean of the College of Fine Arts at Marshall, noted that the school's visual arts program dates back to 1901 but "has never had a home designed to meet its needs." Happily that will change, he said, when the program moves into the former department store building, vacant since 1996.

Huntington architect Edward Tucker, retained by Marshall to lead the renovation project, said he's excited about the impact the project promises to have on Marshall's visual arts program and on the city's downtown.

"Marshall is making a very progressive move that will foster growth in the community, improve curriculum delivery and provide an effective recruitment tool for students and faculty alike," Tucker said. "For our staff members who grew up in Huntington, as I did, it's especially gratifying to be a part of bringing new life to the former Anderson-Newcomb/Stone & Thomas department store. While we have completed many adaptive re-use projects in Huntington's Downtown Historic District, this building's size, history and significance brings tremendous opportunities for unique solutions." he said.

Long a downtown Huntington landmark, the former department store building dates back to 1902.

Van Horn said the renovation project, targeted for completion by January 2014, will see a complete modernization of the building's interior and a restoration of its façade to its original vintage appearance.

"This will be a state of the art facility that will serve as a showcase for visual arts education," Van Horn said. "This new home will be good for students, faculty, staff and the community."