EXCLUSIVE: The Public will be transformed into a sixth form arts college – with Sandwell Council handing its new bosses £200,000 a year for the next five to help fund its arts provision, it can be revealed today.
Sandwell College wants to take over the West Bromwich arts centre and provide places for 500 A-level students.
Today borough council leader Councillor Darren Cooper revealed the authority’s ruling Labour group unanimously voted to proceed with the college’s plans last night.
He said the move would save Sandwell £37 million over the course of the building’s 25-year lease, instead of the council maintaining its current annual subsidy of nearly £1.6m.
The deal has been written in such a way that all of the community groups currently using the New Street gallery will be allowed to stay.
The gallery will close on November 30, at which point the college will be allowed to move into the top two floors and begin any alterations chiefs deem necessary for its future use as a sixth form arts college.
Community groups will still have to relocate temporarily, but with help from the council. College bosses alone will have to bankroll any alterations.
The café on the ground floor will remain as it is, but the theatre there will close.
Instead, acts will be invited to perform at West Bromwich Town Hall or the larger theatre available at the existing college £77 million building on Spon Lane.
Councillor Cooper said: “We rescued The Public when it went belly up some years ago. We’ve continued to support it since and we know some people have grown to love the building and the activities there.
“The reality however is we cannot afford to subsidise it to the tune of around £30,000 a week any longer.
“We now have an agreement in principle with the college.
“There are big benefits which in my view outweigh the pleasure that people have taken from The Public in its present form.”
He said the change would also compensate for a ‘gross underestimation’ made by Government, when it decided the size of college needed for the borough’s growing population. He said:
“This puts the icing on the cake of Sandwell’s educational offer to its people.
“We’ve ended up with the best of both worlds in my view.”
Councillor Cooper added: “The money the council has been putting into The Public is badly needed to continue to protect frontline services on which most taxpayers rely.
“The deal is meanwhile structured so community groups can stay like the tea dancers. It means we will still have a community facility in the heart of Sandwell’s premier town.”
The Public opened in 2008. Sandwell Council took over the management of the New Street centre in 2009 after the Arts Council walked away, and has been pumping in nearly £1.6 million a year into the building.
Building work on the iconic pink and black structure, designed by architect Will Alsop, started in 1995 and after a number of delays the centre finally opened in 2008.
In 2011 the Arts Council was accused of funding a building that was ‘not fit for purpose’ in a damning report into the organisation’s role in building the centre.