Thursday, December 13, 2007

Former MP joins chorus calling for auditorium’s preservation

The following story by Wolf Depner appeared in the Penticton Western News, December 12, 2007

A former area MP has lent his voice in favour of saving a local auditorium.

Tom Siddon, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, wants the city and the local school board to stop the pending demolition of the Pen Hi auditorium.

“It makes no sense to tear down a perfectly good and much beloved auditorium, when no one in this community has a clue how we are ever going to pay for its replacement,” said Siddon in an open letter to council.

Both the city and school board already announced that they will not preserve the venerable but aging facility as part of current efforts to rebuild Pen Hi, citing financial limitations. The city has also moved forward with plans for a stand-alone performing arts facility on Ellis Street.

But Siddon questioned this.

“In these emerging times, when sustainability is increasingly important, we are so often reminded to reduce, to reuse and to recycle,” he said.

“Why therefore would we choose to develop and pave over a new smaller site, sandwiched between the canal and Ellis Street, with all of its consequent new challenges of construction and servicing cost, parking limitations and traffic congestion? And why build a new theatre in an auto-dependent location when the present site is more central and easier to access even when walking, or by public transit?”

Siddon said saving the existing auditorium would actually benefit the community more than building a new structure as he outlined his proposal to remodel the auditorium.

Building from the “inside-out” on the existing theatre site, the theatre could be expanded and modernized into a new complex, he said.

With elections coming, both the provincial and the federal government should certainly be prepared to fund the restoration and expansion of the theatre, said Siddon.

This would cost considerably less than the estimated $40 million needed for a new theatre on Ellis Street, he said.

The Penticton Western News could not independently confirm this claim. Members of the local arts community have also argued for years that the auditorium no longer meets their needs.

But Siddon’s position is far from exclusive and he is perhaps the most prominent speaker in favour of preserving the auditorium. Earlier this year, the six living former mayors of Penticton joined forces in trying to save auditorium and the Pen Hi gym from the wrecking ball.

“We ... object to the destruction of useful community assets without replacements in place,” the mayors said in a prepared statement.

The group of former mayors have also received support from a group of concerned citizens calling itself Save Our North Gym and Auditorium.

“Penticton needs these facilities,” the group said in a presentation to local school board officials this year. “It is wasteful to tear down what is badly needed in the community and which, for economic reasons, cannot be replaced in the near future.”