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Debate over future of theatre continues

They haven't decided which path to take, but they have been given input to help make that decision.
The future of Sutherland Theatre, presently located at Humboldt Collegiate Institute, is still being debated.

They haven't decided which path to take, but they have been given input to help make that decision.
The City of Humboldt invited the public to give them their opinions about the future of Sutherland Theatre at a public meeting held April 4 at the Senior's Hall.
Attended by about 40 people, including representatives of the City, Horizon School Division, and many others involved in culture in the community, the meeting was meant to give city council feedback on a question put to them by Horizon School Division recently.
With Humboldt Collegiate Institute (HCI) soon relocating to their new school at the Uniplex, Horizon plans to renovate the former HCI, Humboldt Public School, and Carlton Trail Regional College area into a new Humboldt Public School (HPS). Parts of the building will be knocked down, other parts renovated, and parts will be added on.
Due to the vast size and scope of the renovations to the facility, which will touch every part of it from the boiler in the basement to the lights in the ceiling, in order to retain Sutherland Theatre and the gymnasium at the present HPS, those spaces have to be brought up to current building codes.
The money for those renovations will have to come from the city or another source. It will not be forthcoming from the Ministry of Education, it was stressed at the meeting.
The renovations planned for Sutherland Theatre are estimated to cost about $1.5 million. And that does not include, the city pointed out, addressing the lack of a lobby or parking space.
To fix up the HPS gym for community usage would cost just over $334,000.
That brings the total of both projects to $1.9 million. Ownership of both spaces, meanwhile, would be retained by Horizon School Division.
Meanwhile, the city believes that to build a new city-owned theatre over at the Uniplex as part of a multipurpose space would cost between $3 and $4 million. To build a new facility near Glenn Hall Park with washrooms and change facilities - which would take the place of the gym - would be between $100,000 and $200,000.
The question the city wanted answered by the public was simple: which way do we go?
"This is a very important decision for our community. It's a very important part of our future, and we take this very seriously," Mayor Malcolm Eaton noted.
Should the city decide to invest in Sutherland Theatre, they will have to implement a plan to finance the renovations.
The city won't have to have the money in place to renew Sutherland Theatre this year, Eaton explained. They just have to indicate interest and make an initial committment to the school division. They would have one to two years to get the financing in order.
Even if the city indicates interest in renovating Sutherland Theatre, their proposal still has to be taken back to the board of education for approval.
"The city feels that we definitely need a performing arts facility in our community. The question is: is Sutherland Theatre the answer or are we better off looking at other options?" Eaton noted.
The timeline is a short one. Horizon has asked the city make their decision by the end of April, so that drawings for the new school can be done to include or exclude the theatre and there are no delays in the building project.
Darrell Lessmeister, Director of Community and Leisure Services with the City of Humboldt, outlined some of the pros and cons to both options.
Renovating the present Sutherland Theatre would be cheaper than building new - at least in the short term.
The building is presently structurally sound, has a history in the community, is centrally located, would be used by the new HPS and would provide basic theatre facilities for the community.
But cons to renovations include a location with limited parking, a lack of dressing room and warm up space, and a lack of storage. There's also an undetermined lifespan for the building, he noted.
The lack of a lobby would be something architect Richard Stone of Stantec Architecture will look at addressing in the design of the school, he noted. He hopes to put a student lounge area near the auditorium if it stays, which could work as a lobby.
Parking in the new HPS will remain much like it is now, with lots to the north and east sides of the school.
Raising about $4 million to build a new theatre could take between eight to 10 years, leaving the community without a real theatre for a decade or, as one person at the meeting noted, "a whole generation of kids."
A renovated Sutherland Theatre, meanwhile, would be under construction for about 18 months.
A new facility would be city-owned. A renovated Sutherland Theatre would not.
Eldon Van Den Bossche, chair of the Horizon School Division board of education, felt that the board would not consider selling the property on which Sutherland Theatre sits because it would restrict their options for the future.
As Horizon no longer has access to the tax base, and monies from the Ministry for capital projects are based on a formula, Horizon would not be able to contribute funds to renovate the theatre or the gym, it was stated.
Facilities guidelines for capital projects are based on student numbers. Each child is given so many square feet of space. The enrolment of HPS does not currently allow an auditorium like Sutherland Theatre, or more than one gym.
While the Ministry will not pay to build extra space like a theatre in a school, they will allow one to be built should other funding pay for it. That's why the city was approached.
One person at the meeting asked whether a theatre could be used for band or music classes, and therefore could be considered instruction space like the stage area of the gym in the current HPS, and be funded by the Ministry.
However, Van Den Bossche was doubtful that would work.
There are no grants available for a community theatre project, the city added, either now or in the near future, so the funding would likely come directly from the tax base.
It would be a burden on the entire community, commented James Moller, city manager, and would likely double the city's deficit if the money for this project was needed in the short term, as it would be to renovate Sutherland Theatre.
"Are you ready to pay that on your taxes?" he asked.
However, he added, in an eight-year time frame, he was confident the community could pull together and raise the majority of the funds for a multi-purpose facility, including a theatre. More grants could be available in the longer term, as well, he indicated.
Though the city's debt limit has been increased, Eaton and other members of council did not like the idea of borrowing funds for a new theatre, due to the other big ticket items already on the city's list, like the infrastructure deficit.
Interim sites
When questioned, Lessmeister noted that there are other venues that could be used as temporary theatres, either in the short or long term, including Jubilee Hall at the Uniplex, which currently hosts the Dance Festival.
"They would make do with what we have until we make plans for something better," Lessmeister said.
Norman Duerr, who has produced a number of musicals to benefit charities, said without a theatre, there would be no major musical productions in the community.
However, he added, he has run into issues accessing Sutherland Theatre in the past few years, even though it was built through a special tax levy and was supposed to be used as a community and school facility.
A new theatre, noted councillor Marilyn Scott, would not require public access to work around the priorities of the school division, as it does now.
How long the community would be able to access a renovated Sutherland Theatre was another question raised.
That all depends on the terms of the greement signed between the board of education and the city, Van Den Bossche noted.
If there is a will or desire to move forward with renovations to Sutherland Theatre, city council should bring the board of education a proposal for a length of time they would like, and the board will decide.
There is room for growth within the HPS they are planning, he added.
But he was unwilling to guess at what the growth of the school will be in years to come, and how long it will be before they would need the space the theatre occupies.
Other issues
The lifespan of Sutherland Theatre as it is, noted Stone, is about 20 to 25 years. And the one system not in need of upgrading now - the ventilation system - will have to replaced at some point in 10 to 12 years.
This raised a question about operating costs of the facilities. If the operation of Sutherland Theatre is going to have a substantial price tag, who pays it, and is it worth putting public money into it, when a new, more energy-efficient building could be built?
Some of those at the meeting were happy with the size of Sutherland Theatre for dramatic productions - there are 363 usable seats - but comments were made about the theatre being too small for a growing community.
Just what they planned to do was still up in the air at press time, and Eaton was not willing to speculate before the meeting of city council on Monday, where they were to discuss the issue.
City council was to discuss the issue on Monday, he noted.
"It's fairly complicated and it's happening fast," he stated. "It's a pretty big decision and an important decision for us."