Last week, city council approved a half-million-dollar "Band-Aid" solution to repair and reopen the Prince George Playhouse.
On Dec. 4, 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 said.
The city employed a contractor to investigate the building's condition, including creating exploratory opening in the siding and using a probe to detect moisture.
"Water is getting past the existing exterior," McIntosh said. "The cladding system is not working as intended."
The original building dates back to the 1970s, but in 1996 the city funded a major renovation of the facility, McIntosh wrote in a report to city council. During that renovation, the building was finished with a face-sealed exterior insulation finishing system that was in common use in the 1990s.
"Since this time, it has been discovered that this cladding system has problems with water penetration and moisture not being able to escape," McIntosh wrote in his report to council. "This problem inevitably results in damage and decay of the cladding system and wall system. This problem has occurred in a number of jurisdictions that used this product. This is one of several buildings in the City portfolio that was constructed using this type of cladding."
On June 14, city council approved spending $230,000 to reside 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.
"It's not secure with hoarding, and it's not very waterproof," he said.
However, in the long-term the building will need to have significant repairs to the structure, new siding and roofing, and a replacement for the 25-year-old HVAC system. McIntosh estimated the costs to repair the building at $5.17 million, with another $1.5 million needed for a new parking lot.
Currently, only 65 of the facilities former 135 parking stalls remain, following the sale and development of the neighbouring land, McIntosh wrote.
Coun. Kyle Sampson said the city needs to repair the Playhouse, but a longer-term solution is needed.
"I'm supportive of the Band-Aid fix," Sampson said. "It provides a service that no other facility (in the city) really does. Without it, we won't have anything in the short-term."
Sampson said the issue of a new performing arts venue in the city has been put off for years, but now "we're on borrowed time."
"Now the job really starts," he said.
Multiple community members wrote in support of the repairs, including Miracle Theatre director Ted Price and producer Anne Laughlin. Multiple members of the Prince George Theatre Workshop also added their voices of support.
While some people said the Playhouse is a great facility, it was the performances – not the building – that were great, Sampson said.
"It's not really a great facility. It's actually a pretty dumpy facility," he said. "But it's better than having no facility."
Coun. Cori Ramsay said city council is taking "a bit of a risk" spending $500,000 on a facility that could be damaged again by the next big storm.
"I recognize it's just a Band-Aid fix. (But) I'm such an advocate for the arts," Ramsay said.
But the city needs to take a serious look at its options and priorities, before spending nearly $7 million more on the facility to repair it for the longer-term, she said.
Acting deputy city manager Ian Wells said the city is conducting renewed consultation on its new Downtown Arts Strategy. The proposed plan is expected to come before city council in the fall once post-COVID consultation is complete and the city has a clearer idea of what funding will be available, Wells said.
Part of the plan will include recommendations regarding a proposed concert hall/performing arts venue in the downtown core, he added.
The city's operating lease agreement with FortisBC is set to expire on Oct. 31, and the city could receive a $25 million lump-sum payment at the end of the 17-year deal.
Coun. Brian Skakun said potentially some of that money could be used towards the cost of a new performing arts venue.
'WE NEED TO MOVE FORWARD, JUST NOT HERE'
Coun. Teri McConnachie was the lone voice on council against the "Band-Aid" option.
She said patching up the Playhouse won't solve the parking issues, and to really make it a useable facility the additional $1.5 million will be needed to create a new parking lot.
"It's a $2 million fix to make this work adequately," McConnachie said. "I think it is going to take more than that $500,000 to make it all viable. We need to move forward, just not here."