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Thursday, 16 October 2014 08:56

The Lyric Theatre renovation project requires ongoing community support

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The long-term renovation project at the Lyric Theatre will soon be moving into a new phase after the initial work ensured the historical building will remain structurally sound.

Gwen Uher, a board member and past president of the Southwest Cultural Development Group (SCDG), provided an update on the renovation work and future plans for the conservation of the building during a Lunch and Learn presentation at the Swift Current Museum, Oct. 8.
She noted the renovation project is the continuation of a dream that started even before the construction of the Lyric Theatre in 1912.
At that time, the building of the theatre was part of the community’s aspirations to become a city and the SCDG wants to ensure it remains part of Swift Current’s future as a performing theatre.
“So to be able to do that we really had to dream big and we also had to have a lot of people on our side that also shared our dream,” she said. “We’re fortunate that we did find the right people and the right organizations to help us with that dream.”
One of the key challenges is the cost of the renovation work to restore the Lyric Theatre to its former glory. The cost of the first phase was $1,063,737 and over $4 million will be required to complete the remaining phases of the project.
For the first phase of the project the SCDG was able to secure a grant of $500,000 from Canadian Heritage and another grant of $250,000 from the City of Swift Current.
“One of the reasons why the City was willing to put that money forward to us, was that we’ve already started to show that we have support from the community,” she said.
The Innovation Credit Union and Standard Motors became marquee sponsors that each contributed $50,000 to Phase 1 and another $150,000 was raised through local business sponsorships and individual donations.
A legacy wall will be unveiled inside the theatre on Oct. 30 to recognize the people and businesses who provided financial support to the first phase of the project.
The assessment of the building by a heritage architect before the start of the renovation work identified some important historical characteristics. The long hallway on the second floor with original baseboards was identified as one of the building’s heritage-defining elements and will be preserved. Unique historical items, such as doors and sinks, were saved and it will be re-used during future renovations to the upper floor.
The pressed tin ceiling in the basement also has heritage value. The tiles were removed, catalogued and stored for reinstallation during future upgrades.
Another key heritage element is the skylights that had to be repaired. They are historically important because of their relevance to the original design plans for the theatre.
“When the Lyric was first built in 1912, it was built with the idea that Swift Current was going to boom,” she explained. “So therefore there was no need to put windows on the north side of the Lyric or on the south side, because there were going to be these high-rises beside it, and so that’s why the skylights were put in.”
The initial renovation work focused on rectifying some issues to ensure the building will remain structurally sound. Load-bearing posts and beams were reinforced and more beams were added. The old woodchip insulation in the ceiling was removed and a new roof with modern insulation was installed. The improved skylights will avoid any ingress of water. The old electrical wiring on the upper floor was removed to comply with current code requirements.
In the basement, the many small rooms were demolished to create a more useable space and beams were reinforced to increase the load capacity of the main floor. Drywalls were installed in the basement as well as a sprinkler system for fire suppression.
The parapet at the front of the building required repair work and bricks salvaged from here were used to fix the back corner of the east wall.
“So at the end of Phase 1 basically we don’t have anything pretty to show people, but we have a very structurally-sound building,” she said. “We also know if we haven’t spent the $1 million that a few years down the road there would have been an empty spot on Central Avenue because we just wouldn’t have been able to fix it.”
Three projects have been scheduled this year for Phase 2 at a total cost of $130,000. The funds were obtained through a number of grants as well as money raised by the SCDG.
Sprinklers will be installed on the upstairs floor and blueprints will be drawn up for the future renovation work to the front section of the building’s interior and west facade.
The most important portion of the second phase was carried out in September on the south exterior wall, where the stag mural is located.
Due to the deterioration of the mortar it was necessary to secure the wall through the insertion of stainless steel rods to anchor the bricks to the interior wall.
The planned upgrades to the building during phases three to seven of the project will not only result in significant visual changes to the front of the building, but improvements to the main floor’s theatre area as well as the development of the second floor and the basement.
A mezzanine on the main floor will increase seating capacity, the basement will be developed into an additional event space, an elevator will be installed to increase accessibility for theatre patrons and extra stairs will be added on the east side of the building to create a fire escape for the top floor.
The intention is to make the second floor available to an interested business for development as a very unique office space and to also have some artists studios on the top floor.
The SCDG will continue to fundraise for the different phases because the planned renovations will be expensive For example the cost of installing an elevator will be about $250,000.
The total cost for Phase 4 work to the front of the building and west facade will be more than $1.4 million.
According to Uher, the SCDG will again focus on receiving grants and on financial support from the business community and residents. In addition they are developing a new bequest program as another means to obtain funds.
Residents can assist their fundraising efforts by attending events at the Lyric Theatre, by volunteering for events or the work done by committees or by taking out a $25 SCDG membership.
“What that does is it shows support for the Lyric Theatre, it shows that you believe in what we’re doing and it also shows that not only do you support what we’re doing with the building, but you are showing that you’re supporting our purpose and that also is very good for us when we are applying for grants because they take a look at the number of members we have and they’re looking for local support,” she said.
She noted the renovation of the Lyric Theatre is important for a number of reasons. Swift Current does not have many public heritage buildings, the theatre provides a home for the city’s arts community and the many events at the theatre attract patrons to the downtown area with a wider economic impact, for example when people dine at restaurants before attending a concert.
“I think one of the things that we’ve really learned is that it’s a community project,” she said. “We realized how important it is that we need to be communicating to the public as far as what we have done. ... We need to be making sure that the public is aware and just getting people to come into the theatre. A lot of the time, once they’re in the theatre, they’ll have a real love for the theatre and realize the importance of it.”

Read 2803 times Last modified on Thursday, 16 October 2014 09:28
Matthew Liebenberg