Downtown theatre needs more cash

Federal funds at risk if construction of theatre isn’t substantially completed by March 31

by John Devine

With a deadline coming up fast that endangers federal funding for the $5.4-million downtown theatre, city council is being asked to approve another $593,000 to get the job done on time.
The Barrie Downtown Community Theatre is being built with $2.5 million in federal money, from the Cultural Spaces Canada Program. The City has committed $2.68 million, with no less than $650,000 to come from fundraising (the actual amount to be raised is $1.3 million).
However, the federal funds came with a deadline: the project has to be substantial completed by March 31 for the City to receive 100 per cent of the funds. Although the project is on schedule, unanticipated and unbudgeted costs have arisen, which if not covered will imperil the project, Rudi Quammie Williams, director of culture, tells general committee in a staff report.
“In order to complete the project, without compromising the integrity and durability of the theatre, an additional $593,000 of expenditures above the approved budget amount of $5,418,000 is required to ensure delivery of the project within the aggressive timeline so as not to compromise the funding eligibility with Cultural Spaces Canada,” wrote Williams.
Unexpected costs involve:
• As demolition of the old Scotiabank on the southwest corner of the Five Points intersection neared completion, buried hydro infrastructure was located, of which Powerstream had no record. The discovery resulted in a cost of $180,000.
• Structural work was required consisting of revised wall construction and additional foundation/wall stabilization, for another $360,000 in unexpected costs.
• A relocation of a transformer originally thought to service a few adjacent buildings, but subsequently discovered to provide power to an entire block, resulted in an additional $150,000.
Inflationary prices have also driven costs up, reports Williams, who adds the spike may have been caused by the number of projects underway and funded by stimulus-spending infrastructure money.
“Due to this, the theatre project encountered tender results approximately 28 per cent above the anticipated two per cent inflation carried within the project budget (as per industry design estimating standards at the time of creating the project budget in March 2010). Current market conditions continue to trend above pre-recession pricing for commodities and labour rates.”
Revisions to the project were successful in reducing additional costs from $1.8 million to $600,000; 100 per cent of the construction work has been tendered. The additional costs may be eligible for 50 per cent funding from Cultural Spaces Canada.
In his report, Williams said the extra costs only became apparent during the lame-duck period of the 2006-2010 council, explaining why council’s approval for the additional expenditures was not sought at that time.
If the project had been shelved last October because of the extra costs, the City would have still been on the hook for $3 million in committed contracts, as well as the costs involved in tearing down work that had been completed and filling in the site. The sale of the property could have reduced the City’s potential exposure to $2.2 million, the report states.
“This action would have seriously jeopardized the City’s credibility in any future funding applications … to Cultural Spaces Canada, as well as compromised community involvement in future fundraising initiatives for the arts and cultural sector.”
Completion of the project will support the City’s cultural goals, says Williams.
In 2006, when council adopted the Plan for Culture, Building A Creative Future, the need for a 200-seat incubator theatre that would serve the city’s professional and amateur performance arts groups was identified.
“The users of the facility will be of all ages and it will be the training ground for future generations of Barrie performing artists, many of whom until now have had to leave the community to experience performing in a professional facility,” says Williams, who adds the theatre will be a cultural hub of the city and a spark for downtown revitalization.
The theatre will also be Barrie’s first downtown performance arts centre since the Barrie Opera House on Collier Street burned down in the 1880s. The remnants of the opera house were razed a few years back to allow for the construction of the Collier Street parking garage.
Cultural spending by Barrie residents, according to a May 2010 report, Created in Barrie: Understanding Barrie’s Arts and Culture Markets, comes in at an estimated $40 million (2009 numbers), or $2,100 per household.
The Williams’ report offers three other options other than approving the additional costs: 1) committee could decide to stop the project, although this is not a recommended action; 2) committee could increase the fundraising portion to cover additional costs. Not recommended because of the number of fundraising efforts underway in the city, including projects by the RVH (expansion and cancer care centre) and Georgian College (the wellness centre); 3) committee could decide to have the funds come out of other areas of the project, or elsewhere in the city’s capital budget. As with the other two options, this direction is not recommended.
Click here for general committee meeting details and agenda.

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