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Improving access to the arts

Perkins Center gets $250,000 grant for renovation work

Christine Harkinson/The Sun: The $250,000 grant will be used to modernize, repair and preserve the Moorestown building – actually a Tudor home – that houses the Perkins Center for the Arts.

The Perkins Center has received a $250,000 grant to preserve and enhance its 100-year-old Moorestown building.

The New Jersey Historic Trust and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts FY23 Capital Arts – Historic Locations grant will be used to modernize, repair and preserve the Tudor home that Perkins has maintained and operated in since 1977. The center received the maximum award from a pool of $2.6 million.

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“In this case, the grant is for the maintenance and the care of this building,” explained Kahra Buss, Perkins’ executive director. “It’s another step in our collaboration and our partnership with the township of Moorestown.”

“Over the last few years,” she added, “we’ve really seen some very positive movement within that relationship … There’s a lot of pieces that have come into place, and really have allowed us to move forward with this project.”

Key elements of the renovation include a new roof, installation of energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, fresh exterior paint and refurbished accessibility updates to ensure the space remains welcoming to individuals of all ages and disabilities.

“This building has been functioning on oil heat for its entire lifetime, so now we have the opportunity to upgrade the systems, be cleaner and be more energy-efficient, which, as everybody knows, the utilities are going through the roof,” Buss acknowledged. 

“That, from a financial responsibility standpoint, allows us to be more financially stable when you’re not constantly battling the utilities bills.”

The renovation project is expected to start in early autumn and be completed no later than June 2025. Perkins will strive to minimize disruptions to its ongoing programming during the work.

“The roof will be next, and that will include preservation of the flat roofs, preservation of some of the details and reconfiguration of the gutter system, also, again, to help take water away from the building and prevent water in the basement, things like that,” Buss pointed out.

“The last piece is, we’ll have it painted,” she added. “The roof, the air and the paint are all pieces of maintaining the structure. Because it (Perkins) is on the New Jersey Historic Registry, it is a protected building, which is great. But then it also means that there are certain standards that have to be upheld when you do any work to it.”

According to nj.gov, the FY23 Capital Arts – Historic Locations grant program is the result of a new partnership between the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a division of the New Jersey Department of State, and the New Jersey Historic Trust affiliated with the Department of Community Affairs.

The grant program is designed to assist state art nonprofits operating within buildings that are listed or eligible for listing in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Funds may be used for construction expenses related to the preservation, restoration, repair and expansion to improve or enhance the facility.

“Sometimes having work done is more costly, or it takes longer or there’s certain processes that have to be followed,” Buss said. “So again, that’s one of the reasons that this grant is such a big deal, because it’s allowing us to really adhere to those standards and make the necessary improvements to keep the building safe and preserve it for generations to come.”

Along with the historic trust and the arts council, Buss credits the township and its support in seeing Perkins move forward with the grant.

“Over the last few years, we’ve really had a much improved relationship with the township, just in terms of talking about the building and the grounds as a community cultural asset and what that looks like for both parties,” she pointed out. “We’ve been doing a lot of work in that area and we’re really happy to be able to kind of take that next step.”

At both its Moorestown and Collingswood locations, Perkins offers visual and performing arts programming 50 weeks out of the year and serves 42,000 people annually, including kids, veterans and the disabled. It has increased educational programming by 64%, and arts programming and exhibitions by 400% since 2019.

Buss would like to see Perkins become an arts campus, a community space for everyone.

“ … The arts are really centered in lifelong learning, so that’s my vision,” she offered, “that it would become even more of a cultural hub than it already is … 

“We work so collaboratively with so many organizations here in town and throughout the South Jersey region that it’s just more about those collaborations and making the community feel at home.”

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