Cost stings for TCP, but New Hamburg arena renovations complete
*** Please note, while it was not mentioned in the article below, as a registered charity all contributions to TCP are tax deductible. Any donations made on our website (via our Canada Helps form) are automatically receipted via email, while TCP mails out receipts for cheques received over $10.
The Community Players had little choice but to nod reluctantly as the bills piled up for renovations to the New Hamburg arena. Now, the long, complicated work is finished to outfit the old barn so it meets fire safety standards, but the total cost was higher than expected, and the local non-profit theatre group is hoping the community will chip in $25,000 to get them back on firm financial ground.
TCP leaders met with Wilmot Township staff and an architect earlier in December to check over the new additions installed since January of this year. The new back-up sprinkler system, fire exits and smoke-removal system are all in place, said TCP President Gary Goeree. But with bills still coming in, the project’s total cost has now grown to about $170,000. The Ontario Trillium Foundation gave TCP a grant for $145,000 but the cost over-runs leave the local volunteer group in the red for the project.
TCP’s new appeal for donations is a rare step for the local theatre group, which has previously been able to support itself through ticket sales. “TCP has always lived within our means,” Goeree said. “But this whole arena renovation thing… has just kicked the feet out from under us.”
“I guess if this is a boxing match, TCP would be the fighter backed up against the ropes. We need some help to get back in the ring.”
TCP had for years transformed the arena floor at the New Hamburg Community Centre on Jacob Street into the Trinity Theatre for an annual musical production. But the 2015 show had to be cancelled after an audience member raised concerns with Wilmot’s fire department that the arena was not up to fire code — side exits were obscured by curtains during TCP performances. Once Wilmot Township staff began to inspect the building, they realized how far short it fell of meeting safety requirements for a theatre with nearly 700 people in the audience.
TCP was responsible for organizing and paying for the work in the municipal building. The project had no end of trials and tribulations, as Goeree and a team of engineers, architects and tradespeople tried to bring an old wooden arena up to modern fire code for a theatre.
Surprise additions kept popping up as worked moved along, Goeree said.
Renovations were halted earlier in 2016 when workers found old asbestos-lined panels near the roof. That required an environmental assessment and special removal.
Special wiring for the HVAC unit cost an extra $10,000, beyond what was in the original plans that architechts drew up for TCP.
TCP had little choice but to agree to each additional change needed to meet the fire code. “When you start to renovate you open up this Pandora’s box of problems,” Goeree said.
“But there was a point where we had to keep going… We just said, we can’t stop now.”
Plus, if they didn’t finish the work, the Trillium Foundation could ask for their grant money back.
“If we’re going to call ourselves a theatre, even if it’s only six days a year, we have to conform to the same standards that, say Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, does,” Goeree said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not, it’s the way it is. In the end, you just have to cope with what challenges they put in front of you.”
The renovations also had to be done keeping in mind that other groups use the arena for other events. “Everything we put in had to be removable,” Goeree said.
Meeting the fire codes also includes new ongoing costs: TCP expects to pay around $4,000 or $5,000 before each year’s show for new mandatory inspections by the Fire Marshal, the Electrical Safety Authority, and more to ensure that the Trinity Theatre set-up meets code.
TCP sent out emails earlier this month asking for donations to “help us recover from this shortfall, and to ensure that we can produce community theatre at its very best.”
After a two-year hiatus, Goeree was worried about bringing back the army of volunteers needed to stage a big musical again. People are coming back, he said, but more bodies are needed as preparations for “Mary Poppins” in the coming spring pick up steam.
The coming show isn’t at risk of being a low-budget production because of these construction costs, Goeree said, but TCP’s reserves are gone. They’ve spent their savings, leaving the group in a very tight, potentially risky position. It could take TCP six or seven years of successful shows to make up the $25,000 they’ve spent on the arena.
“The goal of this fundraising program is to get us back on firm financial ground,” Goeree said.
Mary Poppins was specifically chosen to help draw families and kids back to TCP. “That’s who we are,” Goeree said. The smaller shows staged while waiting for these renovations to end were fine, but are not TCP’s true calling, he said.
“I think people should give because they believe in the value of community theatre,” he said. “And I think they should also give because they have confidence in our ability to run a business that is self-sustainable. We have always been self-sustainable, except when we have had to renovate someone else’s building.”
Donations can be made online via the TCP website, or by mailing a cheque to The Community Players, P.O. box 6154, New Hamburg, Ontario, N3A 2K6.