BEDFORD — Situated in downtown Bedford, StoneGate Arts & Education Center will provide a state-of-the-art learning experience for students when classes kick off in January.
“It’s important to have a community learning center,” said Marla Jones, community and business development director for the city of Bedford. “Bedford has been able to offer educational opportunities since 1979 when Oakland City University began offering classes here, and we’re thrilled to be able to continue to offer those educational and workforce development opportunities to the community through StoneGate.”
The downtown StoneGate building was conceived as part of the city’s Stellar Communities project and Mayor Shawna Girgis’ plan to revitalize downtown while also improving education and job training opportunities for local residents.
It was one of the last projects to commence among the city’s ambitious project list that included moving the Milwaukee Depot downtown, constructing new sidewalks and landscaping downtown and creating a pedestrian/bike trail along Lincoln Avenue and into parts of downtown.
Construction on the three-story building began last fall following demolition of the old JCPenney building at the corner of 15th and J streets in August 2017. The new building is now complete, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Although the initial plan was to rehabilitate the JCP building, cost estimates came in way over budget because of basement flooding. The rehabilitation plan was scrapped when the city learned it would cost less to raze the old building and construct a new one in its place.
The building, designed by Matheu Architects of Bloomington, was constructed with flexibility in mind.
“I am very excited,” said Susan Hayes, assistant program director for StoneGate. “I think they’ve used the space well.”
At a cost of $4.4 million, the building is bringing education, training and art to downtown. StoneGate’s 14 classrooms will hold classes through Ivy Tech Community College, Oakland City University and Vincennes University. It also will have a large performing arts space with seating for 125 people, three large computer labs and a smaller computer lab, as well as offices for the college coordinators, a room for college admission assessments, places to study and relax between classes and gallery space. Using the education institutions situated in the building, students can work through both degree or certificate programs.
“We realized, outside of family and friends, education is the most influential piece of your life and the one thing that really affects the trajectory of your life,” Jones said. “Because of this, Mayor Girgis was insistent on putting StoneGate on the front door of our community — the downtown.”
Jones said there have been 23 mayors in Bedford’s nearly 130-year history. To honor those individuals, rooms throughout the new StoneGate are named after some of the more recent leaders including Girgis, Joe Klumpp, Lee Qualkenbush, Paul Lostutter, Clarence J. “Oonie” Donovan, John R. Andrews, Ivan Brinegar, C.R. Johnston, Charles H. Allen, Albert Fields, John B. Stipp, Peter S. Fillion, J. Hickson Smith, David Y. Johnson, Henry P. Pearson and Col. Vinson Williams. Lawrence County artist Stephen Burton is working on oil and canvas paintings of the 16 mayors that will hang in their respective rooms.
The performing arts venue will be showcased for the first time when the Teen Brain Games are conducted in the space beginning Dec. 4.
“StoneGate gives us a lot of opportunities to expand the educational offerings in Lawrence County,” Jones said. “This is a community space, and we look forward to our community using it to the benefit of our citizens.”
The StoneGate building at 405 I St., now called StoneGate North, will remain a venue for nonprofit organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the local robotics clubs, as well as a business incubator for the nine startup companies currently operating within the limestone structure on the north side of Bedford.