ICYMI: Petrolia plans $9.2 M reno to Victoria Hall

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Petrolia’s iconic Victoria Hall may be getting a major facelift and the town wants Lambton County taxpayers to help foot the bill.
The town has long discussed making the building, which holds Victoria Playhouse, more accessible. The building has one elevator and one entrance ramp for people visiting the theater or going to town hall. The stage area is completely inaccessible to anyone with a wheelchair and changes are needed to provide more accessible washrooms.
In 2018, a theater consultant re imagined how the building could be improved suggesting a large addition, moving the municipal offices out of the building and creating a second more intimate stage. That $50,000 report was never brought back to council in its final form after taxpayers expressed concerns about the ideas.
Laurissa Ellsworth, director of marketing arts and communication in Petrolia, says the new plan would see town services based out of Victoria Hall, however the town council chamber may be moved to a new two-storey building proposed on the site of the current rehearsal hall. It would also contain a props and staging area for the theater and would be linked to the current building with a series of hallways.
The plans also call for two new elevators, one to access the service doors to the stage on the second floor. Now, props and sets are brought to the door with a man lift. The second elevator would be for theater patrons on the Victoria Park side of town hall. Ellsworth says it would bring patrons to every floor, including the balcony. “If we do have seats available… it’s often time in the balcony and those who need assistance, often times, they just can’t get up there.”
Ellsworth estimates the town will need about $3 million to address accessibility issues alone.
There would also be improvements to the theater lobby. Ellsworth says the current plans see the town building some washrooms behind the current building and reconfiguring the parking lot. The current council chambers would be renovated into a larger lobby area and there are plans for a permanent art gallery. The Victoria Hall Art Committee currently uses the bar area and council chambers for its shows.
The council chambers, Ellsworth says, would be moved to a new, two-storey building on the site of the current rehearsal hall.
“On the main floor you would probably see council chambers move in for accessibility and also to provide more lobby space for this facility,” she says
“It is in the tentative plans to strip the maple out of here and put it in there to be very respectful of what’s here. We just want to be respectful.”
There would be two catwalks linking the new building to Victoria Hall and Ellsworth says the town will have to be “sympathetic to the fact this is a heritage building. We have to work really closely with Heritage Canada to make sure what we are doing is really appropriate; that what we are doing is visually pleasing and functional and fully accessible.”
The town set aside $100,000 for an engineering study which Ellsworth expects will begin in the spring.
It’s also applied under the federal/provincial recreation grant which is now open. If the town would receive that, it would need to provide 27 per cent of the estimated $9.2 million tab.
And it is looking for help. Council Monday passed a motion to ask Lambton County to provide a $1 million grant spread over five years to aid in the cost of the renovations.
“We bring a lot of tourism into this county and those people wouldn’t be coming in if we didn’t have this theater,” says Mayor Brad Loosley, who is also the town’s representative on county council. That benefits other Lambton County communities.
“The perfect example is we don’t have any hotels…we’re getting three to five buses every day – the most is six – …when you say half need a place to stay over, they stay over somewhere within this county – usually Pt. Edward or Sarnia. It is an advantage to keep this thing moving in a positive direction to attract people so that the whole county benefits.”
Petrolia will make its pitch to the county Feb. 5.