Repairs on the city’s “Band-Aid” fix for the Prince George Playhouse are nearing completion and the city is about to begin the search for a new facility operator.
At last night’s meeting, (Sept.20) council heard an update regarding the reopening of the Prince George Playhouse. This summer council approved a half-million-dollar "Band-Aid" solution to repair and reopen the Prince George Playhouse after significant rot was discovered.
The Playhouse closed because of COVID-19 in March 2020, however, in December a portion of the stucco siding on the west side of the playhouse tower fell off and landed on the lower roof level and nearby ground during a storm.
A preliminary inspection found significant rot at the site where the stucco failed, acting city director of civic operations Blake McIntosh.
In 1996 the building was renovated with a finishing system that was commonly used in the 1990s but was later discovered to have problems with water penetration and moisture.
On June 14, city council approved spending $230,000 to re-side the west side of the tower.
The funding includes $90,000 to cover the costs the city had spent to date, to build wooden hoardings over the damaged area, heat it, and conduct the building assessment.
In addition, council approved $271,500 to upgrade the theatre's rigging system to improve safety before the building is reopened for use.
Without the repairs, the building wouldn't be safe to operate, McIntosh said.
City council was also informed that to fully repair the building for the long term it will require significant repairs including new siding, new roofing, and a replacement for the 25-year-old HVAC system which would cost $5.17 million, with another $1.5 million needed for a new parking lot.
During the meeting City manager Walter Babicz noted the future of the Playhouse could be discussed at a strategic planning session regarding the 2020 Downtown Arts Strategy and arena needs. The findings of that session could be reported back to council at a future date.
“I do want to see this arts strategy come back to council in a public meeting before the end of the year. This is a band-aid solution, and we need to start planning where we are going to house the arts,” said Coun. Kyle Sampson.
A letter advocating for the city to fully rejuvenate the Playhouse signed by 46 members of the local arts community was also sent to city council.
The letter is signed by local musicians like Kym Gouchie, Danny Bell, and Amy Blanding among others as well as local theatre ponentes such as Ted Price and Anne Laughlin.
“We expect that it is unlikely that such a midsized and ‘community friendly’ facility would be replaced by the City. If this expectation is correct, we would urge you to take what steps you might think appropriate to maintain the option of rejuvenating the Playhouse, even if this must be done in increments over a number of years,” states the signatories.
“Mr. Blake McIntosh's estimate of $7,171,500 to completely restore the Playhouse is a moderate sum compared to replacing it.”
The group said the Playhouse has represented an impressive return on investment for the city as it contributed just $300,000 to the rebuild in 1996 and it’s operating expenses are just $34,000.
“To continue to enjoy the long-standing social and cultural benefits from such a modest investment we would urge Council to consider an Incremental 5 plus Year Capital Plan to restore and upgrade the Playhouse for community use.”
In the city’s latest report, which was received for information by council, staff explains exterior repairs for the ‘Baind-Aid” fix are nearing completion and the interior and parking lot work is continuing.
However, the city said exterior cladding damage may occur to other areas of the building and repairs were not comprehensive but achieved the minimum requirement to commence operations again.
The city said the facility can be safely reopened but it is not known how long it may operate without needing further repairs.
Work on the theatre’s interior rigging system and fire curtain replacements and repairs is expected to occur over the coming months.
Significant challenges also face the building’s current parking lot.
The existing parking lot and entranceway is now smaller than it was previously due to the apartment development adjacent to the Playhouse.
To make more room for parking the existing lot has had all curbed islands, irrigation and vegetation removed. However, the lot will see a reduction from 135 spaces to about 65.
The city says staff have brought these areas to grade in preparation for placement of asphalt millings that will interface with existing paved portions of the original lot.
This work will be complete in mid-October.
A public request for proposals to find a suitable facility operator is also set to open shortly.
Previously Judy Russell of Judy Russell of Enchainement Productions acted as facility manager for the 297-seat theatre.
The city is anticipating it will have a new operator in the facility by December.
- with files from Arthur Williams, Prince George Citizen