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Photo by Rick Fatica

Dec. 12, 2006
By Elizabeth Boyle

Athens community members who haven't caught the excitement of the new Baker University Center yet will have an opportunity to do so soon -- they'll be able to make use of the new building and its amenities when it officially opens Jan. 2.

The Local Girls play the Front Room for holiday show

Photo courtesy of the Local Girls

The Athens-based singing group The Local Girls has held its Annual Community Christmas Concert at Baker University Center for nearly 15 years. This holiday, the trio will make merry at the new Baker Center, a fact that thrills group member Mimi Hart, who says, "We thought it was a great opportunity for people to come and see the building and see our annual show."

The event, which will take place Saturday, Dec. 16, in the Front Room Coffeehouse, will include original arrangements of traditional Christmas songs and numbers featuring the Athens group Calliope Feminist Choir. Shows begin at 7 and 9 p.m., each with a $5 fee for admission.

Hart says The Local Girls, who have taken their precision harmony performances to the White House and on tour in Europe, love this show because of the sentimentality of singing with friends, family and community members. She especially likes when children join the group on stage.

"We pass out lyric sheets. It's a time of shared singing more than performance," she says. "We look forward to it every year."

The building has a lot to offer the community, starting with its generous meeting and event space. Twenty-two meeting rooms can be arranged for groups of eight to 125 people, and the Baker Center Ballroom seats up to 500 people banquet-style and as many as 1,000 theater-style. Most spaces in the center have built-in audio-visual equipment, and all have flexible seating arrangements, making them ideal for meetings, conferences and social events held by individuals or local organizations.

One group that's already signed up to take advantage of the building is Athens County Common Pleas Court, which will hold its annual holiday party there. Court administrator Sharon Ryan is excited about moving the revelry from the former center, where the court has had its party the past five years, because of the new building's aesthetics and because she expects to see the same quality services. "We like it there because we get a private room and the food is good and they always decorate," she says.

Although access to Baker's reservable spaces will be extended to the community on a fee basis, the rate for community and government organizations is 50 percent of what private and commercial users pay. Individuals or groups not affiliated with the university may use such spaces on a limited basis. They may reserve rooms Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the academic year, and they may reserve rooms any time during summer and academic breaks up to one year in advance.

The center also offers amenities the community can take advantage of at any time. There's a fine-dining option, Latitude 39 restaurant, as well as fast food choices such as Asian, Thai and Tex-Mex. And there are two art galleries, a women's center, the post office, the Front Room Coffeehouse and plenty of parking. Having an additional place to park will be a boon for residents wishing for an easy walk to uptown shopping and campus and local events. There are 170 $1-per-hour spots in an underground garage and an outside 96-space lot for public use during the evenings and weekends.

"The community can plan an event like a wedding reception in the ballroom, and the coffeehouse and the lounge areas are for everybody," says Tim Hogan, Baker's interim director.

Hogan explains that if community members use the center for the parking or to attend a meeting, he hopes they'll find a reason to stay a while (such as a warm cup of java or comfy reading space). "My hope for the extended university community is that the facility becomes the central gathering point."

Elizabeth Boyle is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.


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Published: Dec 12, 2006 12:26:00 AM
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