KEARNEY — A group led by Kearney High School band director Nathan LeFeber wants to restore and enhance the Sonotorium at Harmon Park in central Kearney.

The Kearney City Council on Tuesday gave its blessing to LeFeber’s proposal and his intent to raise $683,000 to put a roof over the Sonotorium’s stage and upgrade the lighting, sound system and backstage rooms of the structure, which was built in 1938.

“The Sonotorium is uniquely Kearney,” LeFeber told the council.

Council members said they were excited about the Sonotorium proposal.

“Seeing what you’re doing is awesome,” Mayor Stan Clouse said. “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble raising $683,000.”

Councilman Randy Buschkoetter agreed. “It says a lot about our community that 80 years later we’re preserving this landmark.”

According to Kearney Park and Recreation Director Scott Hayden, more than a year ago LeFeber approached the Park and Recreation Department with ideas for enhancing the historic Sonotorium.

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“This is a project that has been on the city’s capital improvement program (CIP) list, so staff welcomed the input,” Hayden said in a memo to the council.

Hayden said that specific facility needs include, but are not limited to a permanent stage roof, power/electrical upgrades, improved lighting and sound, facade restoration, ADA accessibility and backstage improvements.

A Harmon Sonotorium Enhancement Committee has been formed to get more input from organizations that use the facility. The committee is comprised of several people representing different groups from the arts community.

Olsson and Associates, in cooperation with architects Wilkins ADP, was hired to do some structural tests and put together conceptual plans.

“The committee recognizes the history and uniqueness of the Sonotorium and wishes only to enhance the facility and make it more functional,” Hayden said.

LeFeber and other committee members on Aug. 15 presented the conceptual plan and goals to restore and enhance the facility to the Park and Recreation Advisory Board. The projected cost is $683,000; however, the project could be done in phases.

Hayden said the committee wishes to develop a fundraising plan, which will be guided and assisted by the Park and Recreation Department. Fundraising would include applying for arts grants and conducting a community campaign. The Park and Recreation Advisory Board voted 5-0 to recommend the concept to the council.

The city has committed $5,000 to cover the costs of the structural tests and the conceptual plans.

The city staff has recommended working with the Sonotorium committee to steer the project and fundraising efforts. In addition, two Park and Recreation Advisory Board members will be added to the committee.

“This approach will allow the project to meet the goals while preserving the integrity of the Sonotorium,” Hayden said. “Staff also recommends approval of the conceptual plan for restoration and enhancement of the Harmon Park Sonotorium as presented and to allow for fundraising to commence.”

In other business, the city of Kearney and the University of Nebraska at Kearney have reached an agreement for the construction of an estimated $7 million six-court indoor tennis facility at University Village.

According to a memo from City Manager Michael Morgan to the City Council, the facility will be owned and operated by the city with UNK contributing funds for utilities and maintenance. Additionally, UNK will contribute $50,000 annually to support operations. City Park and Recreation administrative staff will be housed at the new facility.

When the project was announced earlier this year, UNK had $3 million in donations in hand and intended to collect another $3.5 million by May. Morgan said the city also will contribute funds from a variety of sources including $400,000 in sales tax funds and $150,000 from the Doc Stevenson fund.

Morgan said the goal is to begin construction in 2020. UNK will submit the project for approval to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents on Oct. 25.

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