Friday, April 20, 2007

Dodi Morrison: Community should sound off over Pen High buildings

The following appeared in the April 18, 2007, edition of The Western News. It was reprinted in The Herald on 26 April, 2007.

I have become somewhat known in the area, perhaps mostly as an annoyance. At any rate, people speak to me on the street, at the theatre, at clubs and other gatherings and are very willing to express what they feel.

In addition, I no longer drive, and cab drivers, a varied lot, speak frankly. For some time my question has been “What do you think of the idea of taking down that auditorium ?” Lately, since I hear both buildings could easily “stand alone,” I add “and that gym?”

The answer never changes. It’s a variation on: “What a mad idea! Why do they want to tear down two such useful buildings — and for a parking lot?” I have yet to hear anyone say “What a great idea!” or even, “I don’t have an opinion.”

Some time ago I wrote city council and said I feared there would be rioting in the streets if they did that. Recently I wrote the school board asking if they really believed it was a good example for our young people if we tore down perfectly valid, useful buildings because we could not find $2 million — out of all the millions being spent on the new South Okanagan Event Centre — to do the necessary repairs and upgrading.

Apparently there are endless uses for the gymnasium (renovated not long ago). But there will be two gyms in the new school. There is no replacement for the auditorium. Yes, there are churches — but none will hold the 750 Community Concert members, or the rising numbers Justin Glibbery is attracting to his new support-the-students series. (Both are enthusiastically attended, and can expect new members from the new condos in town.) Megan Rutherford has explained how often and well the auditorium is used for other purposes. She kept track, since last September, as you may have read. The list is long.

And everyone knows that no church has the acoustic perfection of that auditorium. Artists have praised it as “the best in Western Canada.” The sloping floor makes for good viewing — and there are no stairs to climb.

According to the census, Penticton’s population is 33,000 (approximately). If it takes 10 years to complete the event centre, will it cost about $33,000? Go figure. After that it is paid for, we can start on that dream replacement for Pen High’s auditorium. But obviously, not before. And many of us will never use the event centre. Sadly, hockey has become too violent for the taste of many, and many won’t want to attend rock concerts. Is this fair?

Petitions are around the city (they need to be more widely distributed, so look for them). Meetings will be held — some are already under way. Meetings were held when this first came up, but were subverted by a few who still held out that “a replacement will be found ...”

Let us hope these few naysayers will now reflect carefully about what they are denying this city.

Letters do matter. They are read and counted. We need plenty of letters — and copies sent to the school board and the council as well as the papers. Stop telling me what you think! You can write it in three lines and still be effective. If you have already written, write again — and say so. And we need support from neighbouring communities. They love our auditorium too.

Three lines. Take up your pen.

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