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North Tonawanda’s historic Carnegie Art Center will receive $343,000 in federal grants to repair and update its creaky 1904 building, economic development officials will announce today.

The money, which comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development block grant program, will fund the construction of a new handicapped-accessible entrance and restrooms in the city-owned building.

The funding is part of the most recent round of local HUD block grants, which are funneled through the state Office of Community Renewal and Western New York’s Regional Economic Development Council. The grants include nearly $2 million in funding to cities and towns across Western New York.

“The money will upgrade the Carnegie enough so that we can really use it to make it ‘art for all,’ ” said Mary Simpson, the center’s part-time executive director and only staff member. “People that have ability issues will be able to enter and use the facility. It will open up the opportunity for the experience of art that a lot of people really can’t access right now: elderly people, veterans with disabilities, people with special needs.”

North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt hailed the grant as a positive step in the economic life of the city and infusion of new life into a building on the state and national registers of historic places.

“These renovations, the handicapped bathrooms, the handicap accessibility, bring the building up to the requirements of the 21st century, and obviously it broadens its accessibility and it also broadens its appeal,” he said. “I think the long-term economic impact for the Carnegie is really what I’m focusing on with these renovations.”

The center, which hosts community activities and visual art exhibitions, has continued its programming during a financially challenging decade. The mission of the former library has turned away from the rigorous art exhibitions organized by its former director Ellen Ryan and into a more community-based institution. Ortt said that the grant will allow the center to evolve into an “event space” and develop partnerships with local businesses will help to make its programming more sustainable.

Sam Hoyt, who leads Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s local economic development arm, said the grant is evidence of the council’s support for the arts and for organizations that fall outside the City of Buffalo.

“We believe strongly at the Western New York Regional Council that supporting the arts, and arts and cultural institutions, are very vital part of any community’s economy. We have been very supportive of other applications that have come in for supporting the arts, and it isn’t just Buffalo,” Hoyt said. “The more midsized and community-based institutions are very important to the vitality of any community.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com