Thursday, March 8, 2007

Update: Voices in favor, voices against

Voices in favor:

Herald Letters, 07 March, 2007
“[Regarding the Pen-Hi auditorium] we’d like to state that we support the continued usage of this historic venue in the community. In fact we’ll be there on Friday, April 20 with [Chilliwack]. And we’ll raise the roof to the rafters and rock the place to its foundations—just to demonstrate one more time, what a great venue it still is. We invite the community to join us and support the preservation of this perfectly good performance space—before she’s gone, gone, gone.”

Ken Smedley
George Ryga Centre

Herald Letters, 08 March, 2007
“To say Pen-Hi’s facilities were the envy of other dramatic arts teachers in the valley would be an understatement […] Destroying what we have with no future option in sight makes no sense to me, especially when you consider the heavy use currently being scheduled.” [list of activities in the auditorium]

Megan Rutherford
Fine Arts Department Head
Penticton Secondary School

Voices against:

Herald Editorial, 06 March, 2007
“Obviously, the City of Penticton, facing a massive $17 million overrun for its own mega-construction project, the South Okanagan Events Centre, is stretched so thin it would be unable to save both facilities single-handedly. While council has expressed an interest in doing what can to save the auditorium, this will mean stretching the budget considerably.

Even if council had some magic pool of funds available, the city is not, and should not be, in the business of saving school property from the wrecking ball—even though it has already come to the school board’s rescue once in saving the Shatford building. Nor should the city be held responsible if the desired facilities are not saved.”

S. Paul Varga
Managing Editor
Penticton Herald

Herald Local Page, 07 March, 2007
“Kimberley said council now has a clearer idea of what the cost of [taking over the Pen-Hi auditorium] would entail […] Kimberley emphasized discussion will focus only on the auditorium and that the city has no desire to take over the gym. ‘There has been no discussion regarding the gymnasium at this council level,’ he said.”

My editorial comments:

I draw one conclusion from Mr. Smedley and Ms. Rutherford’s letters to the editor: There is some support within the “performing arts community” for saving the gym. I have always understood that the local performing arts community spoke with one voice in opposition to saving the Pen-Hi auditorium (ostensibly to increase their chances of getting a new facility). It seems, however, that some within the community see things differently. This is important and encouraging.

As for Mr. Varga’s assertions regarding the gym, I must admit that I am a bit surprised. In my view, he is exactly wrong:

  • If the city is stretched so thin, how can it afford to chase a new $25M performing arts centre? Should it not attempt to make do with the facilities that are already in place? The estimated costs of saving the auditorium are in the area of $1.5M.
  • It is incorrect to frame this as the city saving school property from the wrecking ball. The Pen-Hi gym and auditorium are two functional buildings that the Ministry of Education in Victoria has decided to make surplus. As such, we in the community are faced with an opportunity to swoop down and get these facilities at a bargain. This is no charity mission to help the school district (they are getting a shiny new school); rather, it is clear-eyed economic rationality on the part of the citizens of Penticton.
  • As for not holding the city responsible if this opportunity is squandered, I say this is nonsense. We expect our governments at all levels to step in and provide public goods (in the formal economic sense) that markets are unwilling to supply. Thus, we rely on governments to provide sewers (to combat disease epidemics) and armed forces (to protect our national interests) and artistic and recreational facilities (to develop our citizens). There may or may not be pent-up demand for the surplus gym and auditorium in Penticton (naturally, I believe there is). The point is, a local government can surely be expected to conduct a full analysis of any opportunity that creates cultural and recreational benefits for local citizens. Are we crazy to expect some leadership on this issue from City Hall?