Petrolia okays $3.5M Victoria Hall renovations

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Petrolia has given Victoria Playhouse Petrolia the green-light to start fundraising for a $3.5 million renovation at Victoria Hall.

The project sees two separate additions to the back of the historic site for elevators and some washrooms.

Laurissa Ellsworth, director of marketing, arts and communications, in a report to council says
the renovation has been needed for some time. In 2017, the town studied the idea. It came up with a plan which would have moved municipal services out of Victoria Hall and renovated the space for small theater, newer washrooms and elevator for patrons.

The town went to Lambton County council hoping to secure a $1 million grant, but it didn’t materialize. The town has kept the project on the back burner, but Ellsworth says the theater gets
complaints about “the single, small elevator used to transport patrons to the theatre and washrooms (six-eight persons at a time), and the lack of washrooms in the facility without visiting the basement via the elevator or three flights of stairs.”

She says if there are seats remaining for a performance they are usually in the balcony and patrons won’t buy them because they are up too many stairs or far from the bathroom.

Ellsworth said right now, it does not provide “the experience we strive for, or the dignity that our patrons deserve.”

This fall, with a $5,000 donation from patrons, CIMA+ Engineering worked with Heritage Canada, Petrolia Heritage, patrons and staff to come up with a workable solution.

It includes an exterior addition near the current band shell which would house an elevator which would access all three floors and provide 10 new washrooms, some on each floor. Another addition would be added on the back of the building near the rehearsal hall to house an indoor lift for props
and people. Currently Victoria Playhouse uses a scissor lift to move props to the stage, a practice.

Ellsworth worries could lead to safety problems in the future.

And she says that new lift would provide “the ability for us to hire an artist in a wheelchair …because right now, we just can’t and it’s not really very nice. It does not provide dignity to people and it has upset me for years.”

One of the original concerns about building an addition onto Victoria Hall was due to its heritage designation. Politicians and members of the public wondered if it should be altered.

Ellsworth says the engineer worked with the National Heritage Registry.

“Their only objection to the changes were if they were substantially visible from the front of the building,or they change the roofline. And so when we were able to send them a drawing showing that
no, in fact, the additions mimic the roofline, and they’re not truly visible from the front of the building, they thought that was acceptable.”

The exterior of the building will mimic the current hall including the brick and shapes of the windows and doors. Ellsworth adds the wrought iron spiral staircase at the back of the building will not have to be moved to accommodate the addition.

Town council approved the plan but will commit no cash to the project. Ellsworth says there is about $1 million in a reserve fund for the hall which can be used, however Victoria Playhouse Petrolia has committed to raising the rest of the funding for the addition by applying for grants and holding fundraisers.

She adds a number of patrons have been waiting for the plans to be unveiled to give donations to
the project.

In her report to council, Ellsworth says there is a plan to complete the work during the off season but adds the plans will not go out for tender until the entire $3.5 million is raised.