The history and needs of the Hutchins Memorial Auditorium

Ponca City Now - February 23, 2016 9:09 am

The Ponca City Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to demolish the James S. Hutchins Memorial Auditorium.

Assistant City Manager Tana McKinley gave a history of the facility as well as a list of needed repairs before commissioners voted on the matter.

In 1958, the will of Mrs. James S. Hutchins designated memorial funds for her husband and in 1961-62 the Hutchins Memorial was built.

The City of Ponca City has owned and operated the James S. Hutchins Memorial Auditorium (Hutchins Memorial), which is located in War Memorial Park, since it was built.

The land that it was built upon belonged to the City of Ponca City and was dedicated in 1927 to “be used only for municipal purposes, which shall include school purposes,” and originated from a separate source than did the money received for the building.

But by 1996, Mayor Marilyn Andrews created blue-ribbon committee to study what should be done with the building, which was in need of major repairs and renovation.

The top choice of action at that time was to provide "band-aid care" for the building for next 10 years and then tear it down, because costs made renovations not feasible.

In 2004, the City of Ponca City hired Lewis Associates to create four different options for the auditorium. At that time, even the minimum repair costs topped $4.2 million. The next option, which cost $6.7 million, also included upgrades. But a total remodel of the building, including a major addition, would have been $10.3 million.

The fourth option was to demolish and replace the building.

Citizens clearly wanted something done. In 2005, the Vision 2020 committee was formed. In its report, the committee recognized a need for space for conferences, performances and other gatherings, with a separate venue for each. Those needs were beyond the reach of one building, and a new facility downtown was proposed, which was preferable to remodeling Hutchins.

In that report, the committee concluded major upgrades would be needed at Hutchins, but even with the expense, it would not serve as well as a new building.

City staff says the needed repairs for the auditorium far exceed simple maintenance.

Because of changing technology and code requirements, the building does not conform with current building codes. The building also would require an increased electrical service.

In 2006, Lewis Associates presented a recommendation for a new Hutchins Memorial. The Ponca City Public Schools were planning a new 6A facility for the high school’s performing arts and a new high school auditorium.

There was no room on the high school campus for construction of such a facility and there were more pressing needs.

There was discussion then of the possibility of the school using the Hutchins property. The plan was to combine resources of both the city and the school, at less cost to each, with a custom design to meet needs of both.

However, voters defeated a proposal in a 2006 special election that would have funded the plan, which included a bond issue for the school’s performing arts center and continuation of a half-cent sales tax for the city’s portion of the cost.

McKinley said Hutchins gave significant public service and provided business and community support function. The City of Ponca City and Ponca City Public Schools have discussed the issue of collaborating on construction of a concert hall and find it worth pursuing a joint effort.

Deficiencies at Hutchins Memorial:

Basic building repairs and renovation needs include:

  • The HVAC system

  • Roof

  • Fire sprinklers

  • Side walls

  • Lighting

  • Electrical

  • Restrooms

  • Sound system

  • Seating

  • Curtains, and many other features.

The cost of these essential items exceed the cost of demolition.


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