Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oliver saving their school auditorium

The following appeared in the 12 Mar 08 edition of The Oliver Chronicle. The most interesting aspect of this story (apart from the fact that people in Oliver think their old auditorium is a valuable community and teaching asset) is that specific programs for federal and provincial funding are identified by name. This is surprising because Mayor Kimberley stated very clearly in the 22 Feb 08 press conference that no funding programs exist for such facilities. Hmmm. Very odd.

Referendum will be needed to save Venables Auditorium through Town

By Karen Knelsen

Frank Venables Auditorium will be getting several big improvements if a couple of large grants Town will be applying for come through.

The grants won’t cover the complete cost of a renovation and upgrade, but a referendum to borrow some money would give residents of Oliver and the rural area the chance to say if they are willing to pitch in with an increase in taxes – a total of about $31.38 per home, for the next 20 years, for an average single-family home (based on property value assessments averaging $285,000).

Previously, school auditoriums were funded by the province’s Ministry of Education, but several years ago, that provincial government money stopped flowing.

School District No. 53 has since been paying for basic operational costs of the building, along with fees charged to user groups. Soon, the district won’t be able to support the auditorium any more, and the money to keep the building up and running will have to come from somewhere else.

Tom Szalay, the town’s municipal manager explained the grants. The first of the two is from Towns for Tomorrow, a program run in conjunction with the province’s ActNow BC.

"The grant program allows a maximum grant of $400,000 and that grant has to be matched partly by local funding," Szalay said. Matching that amount isn’t as big a task as it may seem. "It only has to be matched by 20 per cent local."

The application hasn’t gone forward yet – it has to be approved by council first, and Szalay would look for that approval on Monday, March 10 at the regular open council meeting.

"Staff has put together more details on the application, we’ve got a formal resolution going to the council meeting on Monday night asking for them to say ‘yes,’ they authorize staff to make this application on their behalf."

The other available grant does come from the federal government, said Szalay.

"(It’s) called Cultural Spaces Canada. We have not applied for that yet, we intend to. That one will pay for up to one-third of building renovations and up to 40 per cent of specialty equipment – things like lighting, or sound systems – maybe even theatre seats."

Szalay said if all the funding comes through on time, Oliver could see a referendum on borrowing the remaining amount of money required for upgrades on the November election ballots.

"We figure that on the basis of the $4 million project, we can apply for about $1.4 million from that grant program. If we’re successful on that, and if we’re successful on the provincial one, that would leave about $1.7 million short. The only place we can identify where that would come from is from the local community."

The school board has identified an amount of $500,000 that could be redirected in the SOSS renovation and rebuild toward the auditorium, which previously had no place in the budget allowed to them by the Ministry of Education. That $500,000 has been included in the amount the Town has applied for.

A report done by Bevanda Architecture in October 2007, after consultations with user groups and theatre technicians, features three groups of items the facility needs based on priority levels high, medium and low. Only the high priority items have been included in a $4 million budget for improvements to the auditorium.

Items on the list include new theatre seats at an estimated cost of $249,326, new floor finishes, new wall and ceiling paint, and a new balcony railing, along with other improvements to the balcony, totaling $133,039, and upgrades to code requirements, totaling $241,3198, and including new washroom facilities.

Alison Podmorow, a drama teacher at Southern Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) uses the auditorium, which is attached to the school, frequently to teach her classes. She can’t imagine a better place to hold her classes, or school gatherings. "To replace it would be ridiculous. We wouldn’t be able to."

She knows the facility isn’t perfect and it needs a lot of work to bring it up to community theatre par – alongside communities like Winfield and Summerland, which both have similar fine arts outlets.

"They’re both attached to the high school. The high school uses them but the community also funds part of it, and they’re amazing facilities," she said.

The Venables auditorium may not currently be on the cutting edge regarding lighting, sound, and furniture, but Podmorow said there is one feature belonging to the building that makes it unique among other structures in Oliver.

"It’s a great size," she said. "The strongest point of it is the size. We use it for our full school assemblies. We would never be able to have the whole school together in a different kind of facility."

The referendum would be put to both town and area C residents.