Center for Arts and Culture.

South Bend Tribune/GREG SWIERCZ ¿It¿s a very beautiful space,¿ says artist Joseph Segura, whose professional print studio is now located in the former gymnasium at the University of Notre Dame¿s Center for Arts & Culture, 1045 W. Washington St., South Bend. The building, vacant for the past decade, previously was a neighborhood center. (February 21, 2013)

SOUTH BEND -- For decades the red brick building on West Washington Street dispensed health care services and free milk to poor families.

When its halls went silent a decade ago, the building fell into disrepair. Some people wondered if it would be torn down or fall victim to fire or vandals.

The former Hansel Neighborhood Service Center at 1045 W. Washington St. has found a new life as the University of Notre Dame's Center for Arts & Culture. It's being readied for its new role providing artistic and cultural experiences for community residents.

Children's voices again are heard in the hallways, thanks to a pilot after-school tutoring and arts education program that launched this month.

When it officially opens in March, the two-story building will contain:

* The Notre Dame Crossroads Gallery for Contemporary Art, featuring changing exhibits.

* Segura Fine Arts Studio, a commercial print studio led by artist Joseph Segura.

* Notre Dame's community relations office.

* Programming, including tutoring, art education, public lectures, a summer youth innovation camp and other events.

There will be a community open house March 27 to mark the opening.

Those planning for the facility worked with other institutions to make sure they weren't duplicating offerings that already exist locally. The center's events and exhibits will focus primarily on African-American and Latino arts and culture, said Jackie Rucker, Notre Dame's associate director of community relations.

"There will be activities here you won't find anywhere else in the city," said Gilberto Cardenas, a Notre Dame professor and the center's executive director. He formerly served as director of the university's Institute for Latino Studies.

In the tutoring program, about 20 children in grades 2 through 4 visit the center after school four days a week for tutoring followed by an hour of art-based enrichment activities, literacy program director Jennifer Wittenbrink said. Most of the children are Madison Primary Center students. The volunteer tutors are area college students and community residents.

The Center for Arts & Culture will host collaborate events with other nearby cultural institutions, including Indiana University South Bend's Civil Rights Heritage Center, which is just across the street.

Renovating the building for its new use required a $2.8 million partnership that involved Notre Dame, the city, South Bend Heritage Foundation (which owned the building), the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County, Florence V. Carroll Charitable Trust, Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center and Vanir Construction Management Inc. of California.

A glazed terra cotta artwork of a swaddled babe against a blue background, original to the building, remains above the front door. It's a replica of one of the medallions of infants created by Italian Renaissance sculptor Andrea della Robbia. (The original in in the Gallery of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, Italy.)

"The plan was to preserve as much of the architectural character as possible," Rucker said. Inside, the original staircase and terrazzo tile floors remain.

The art gallery, a kitchen and offices are on the main floor. The second floor contains multipurpose rooms, more offices and a computer laboratory.

Winter light streams in the glass-block windows of the center's former gymnasium, which has been transformed into Segura's art studio.

"It's a very beautiful space. The light here is amazing," said Segura, an artist who works in both printmaking and film.

Some of the renovation was paid for with $796,000 in tax increment finance funds and $134,000 in community development block grant funds. Notre Dame contributed $1.5 million it raised privately. The renovation was designed by Kil Architecture & Planning of South Bend. The university now owns the building.

A vacant carriage house at the rear of the property may eventually be renovated into apartments and studios for visiting artists.

The building on Washington Street had been vacant since August 2003, when Hansel Center closed its doors.

It was built in 1925 as the Children's Dispensary, a community agency that provided free health care and milk to low-income families. For decades, the agency provided medical and dental services, services to polio patients, nutrition education, hygiene classes, pre-natal care and other services. The Children's Dispensary closed in 1966.

The building then was renamed Hansel Center, in honor of Dr. Charles Hansel, founder of the Children's Dispensary. It served as a neighborhood center and administrative offices for the federal Head Start preschool program.

The art gallery and community relations office recently moved to the Center for Arts & Culture from the former Notre Dame Downtown office, at 217 S. Michigan St., which the university has now vacated.

The storefront in the Robertson's apartment building still houses Downtown South Bend Inc. offices, Neighborhood Resources Corp. and D.G. Reagan & Associates. The Acting Ensemble's Studio 217 recently moved into the former gallery space.

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Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: 574-235-6329