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Marshall arts center nears completion

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Completing the Marshall County Children's Art Center has proven to be a long and sometimes difficult task, but its advocates are optimistic as the project enters its final stages.

The center, at the corner of East 12th and Elm streets in Benton, is fully functioning, and members of the Marshall County Arts Commission board say it will officially open soon.

"It seems like an eternity sometimes," board member George Milam said of the construction process. "We've had delays here, there and yonder, but we've overcome most of those and we're coming down the home stretch."

Milam said the project has been in the works about three years and has cost a little more than $1 million. He estimates that it will take up to another $250,000 to complete the children's center. The cost includes covering floors and purchasing furnishings and equipment, such as light and sound systems.

The building already boasts a kitchen and an auditorium to use for performances, rehearsals and community activities. The front lobby will double as an art gallery and triple as a visual arts classroom, Milam said.

"Right now, and for some time, we have had an active children's theater group that performs at any venue we can find throughout the community," Milam said. "Now we're going to have a place that they can call home."

Five sessions of a summer arts camp are planned, and enrollment has nearly reached capacity, proving that the center fills a need in the community, he added.

The arts center, which was funded in part by a $500,000 community development block grant and a loan from the Kentucky Association of Counties, has faced its share of hurdles. Most recently, an infant grave was unearthed during the excavation of the arts center's parking lot, delaying that portion of the project.

Milam said that the incident, which occurred last September, was resolved to the satisfaction of the deceased's relatives. The grave was not disturbed or removed, and a memorial will be erected on the site.

"We've run across many, many obstacles, but finally we're being able to overcome them, and I think that's why we're so excited," Marshall County Arts Commission President Valera Brooks said. "Anything that we're able to accomplish, we're so excited about, because it has been such a long time."

Brooks said volunteers and donors have contributed time, money and expertise to the building of the center. Painting and carpentry work number among the volunteers' activities.

"We're doing what we can with what labor we have and what money we have," she said. "We've just had so many people who have jumped on the bandwagon and helped us so much, it's unbelievable."

Brooks said several events have already been scheduled for the center, including a play on April 19, a children's chorus concert on May 3 and a fashion show on May 10.

In the meantime, the nonprofit arts commission continues fundraising efforts. "Race to the Finish," a derby-theme fundraiser that features dinner, an auction and a derby hat contest, will begin at 6:30 p.m. April 25 at the Kentucky Dam Village Convention Center. Tickets cost $50 per person and are available by calling 270-703-0304.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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