PLATTSBURGH The efforts of a grassroots group of civic-minded individuals arent going unnoticed, as improvements continue to be made at one of the citys most historic downtown landmarks. The North Country Cultural Center for the Arts is gearing up for the second phase of its $3.6 million restoration of the Strand Theatre on Brinkerhoff Street. The project, which began in the summer of 2006, was recently secured a $100,000 congressional earmark through Congressman John M. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor. According to NCCCA board of trustees president Sylvia Stack, the money will be used to complete renovations to the first and second lobbies of the two-story theatre, as well as improvements to the upstairs areas, front of the house, and upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. The remainder of the second phase will include the restoration of the 1,000-seat theatres main auditorium and the installation of a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, which is one of the projects biggest expenses, said Stack. Stage equipment will also be purchased, at a cost estimated at $750,000. The first phase of the project successfully raised $1.3 million. The second phase, which aims to raise the remaining $2.3 million, will seek half the amount to be raised by the public and the other half through foundations and government sources. If all goes according to plan, said Stack, the NCCCA hopes to have the majority of the theater complete by the end of 2009. Whether or not the restoration is complete at that time, the center would like to show movies, host small stage productions, and use the theatre for educational purposes, she added. Its a very tough time, with the economy the way it is, but we have no alternative, Stack said of raising the necessary funding. We just have to keep going. The NCCCA board is also pursuing obtaining the nearby Federal Building on Margaret Street, through a request to the federal Educational Department, said Stack. Should the organization be successful, the plan would be to receive accreditation from the state Board of Education, to create not just a multi-arts center, but a school for the arts, she said. Already, the center is collaborating with Clinton Community College regarding a new theatre management degree. The NCCCA board is also seeking to establish a $500,000 endowment fund to ensure future maintenance of the theatre, said Stack. Theres a tremendous amount of support in the community for this project. The community and the public have brought us this far. I hope they take us home, Stack added. During a visit to the North Country last week, McHugh toured the Strand Theatre for the first time, getting an up-close look at the improvements being made. Having now seen it in person, its just a breathtaking space, said McHugh. Its an incredible project. I think its worth [the $100,000 earmark] and more. McHugh added that in his hometown of Watertown, the city underwent a period of urban renewal, which ended doing more harm than good, he said. We tore down a lot of beautiful buildings. Our intentions were well-placed, but we lost a lot of the character and a lot of the history. You look at this great building and the asset that it represents and you can see it is a real benefit. Its a lot of work, but its something I think will benefit the community tremendously, Stack said of the Strand Theatre. It will be the driving force that will bring back downtown Plattsburgh and will be a great asset for people of the North Country. For more information about the Strand Theatre restoration project, visit the NCCCA Web site at www.plattsburgharts.org or call 563-1604.