Renovate or relocate?
That marked the beginning of a six year
odyssey to create a new venue for the WECC.
Part of the solution
This is an exciting time to be in this neighbourhood.
Homes are being renovated. Small businesses, cafes and studios are
opening. The University of Winnipeg is increasing its presence with
the expansion of faculties, programming and student housing.
Turning Plans into Reality
It takes more than bricks and mortar to build a great music venue. In the case of the West End Cultural Centre, it took teamwork, ingenuity, perseverance and a lot of community spirit.
When we committed to staying at the corner of Ellice and Sherbrook, we embarked on an ambitious plan to design a building that would be environmentally sustainable, continue to offer an intimate musical experience for patrons, offer improved facilities for patrons and musicians, provide increased space for community programming, maintain our status as Best Live Music Venue in Western Canada . . . and keep making a positive contribution to the surrounding neighbourhood. This was a tall order! Throughout this six year journey we have experienced both successes and setbacks.
Setting the stage for a green community venue
In addition to major structural problems, the building had other inadequacies: it was not wheelchair accessible, washrooms were not up to code, and it had no designated community programming space. As any past or present staff member who spent a winter in the office dressed in a parka and gloves can tell you – it was not properly insulated and it leaked.
We engaged Prairie Architects and Milestone Project Management
to help us achieve our commitment to the community (reference to revitalization
seems repetitive with next sentence.) by constructing the first “green” music
venue in Canada. Not only would this be great for patrons, artists, and
local residents who access our community programs, but it would also
be a significant contribution towards neighbourhood revitalization.
Our building design emerged out of a collaborative community design process, which created a facility both distinctive and integrated with the residential neighbourhood. By May 2006, the design work was substantially completed and exceeded our expectations. Not only did it meet our three goals, it surpassed all standards for creating a LEED Gold building. Our plan was to build in two stages – first a new concert hall, then the creation of a community programming facility on the site of the existing building – to allow us to continue programming throughout most of the construction period.
Tapping into community support
While working on the design, we also started fundraising. By June 2006 we had already secured more than $2 million from three levels of government and the Winnipeg Foundation. We launched the Take Centre Stage capital fundraising campaign to ‘bring home’ the last $1 million from the private sector.
This was a challenging task for a grassroots organization with a tight operating budget and no additional development staff. In 2006/2007, there were over 40 capital campaigns under way in Winnipeg, all vying for private sector funds. At the same time, construction costs were increasing 2% to 3% a month, reflecting unprecedented demand on resources in the construction industry in Winnipeg.
A huge step forward came in the summer of 2007 when Cliff Penner, President of Ventura Custom Homes, committed to make a very generous lead gift of $250,000. Many other businesses, foundations, individual patrons and volunteers also stepped up to pledge their support. By the end of 2008 we had raised close to $3.5 million. This exceeded the goals that were set when the project got the green light to proceed.
Back to the drawing board
While we were trying to raise funds in the face of rapidly escalating construction costs, the design team had been working hard to stay within budget. Despite our best efforts, by mid-2007 the estimated construction costs had escalated over 50% to well beyond our budget. It was time to go back to the drawing board.
Closer examination of the building by the structural engineers had uncovered an opportunity: the structural problems were limited to the foundation and west wall. With those structural repairs, it would be possible to keep the existing building and achieve our goals while staying closer to budget. We also made other cost-saving adjustments, such as keeping the offices in the basement and deferring office renovations and a number of fixtures and fittings. These changes brought project costs back within our budget range.
Redesign work started in fall 2007 and by November we were once again getting detailed cost estimates. The final cost, although higher than we hoped, was within our reach. We were finally ready to begin construction.
In spring 2008 the project went to tender, contracts were signed and construction started. Over the summer of 2008, the old building was gutted and structural repairs were completed. Work began on the foundation for the new 400 seat performance hall to the south of the existing building, and on drilling for the geothermal wells for the heating system. Our new home was taking shape.
It may sound straightforward but, as anyone who has renovated an old building knows, there are always surprises along the way –not many of them pleasant. Almost every week an alarming discovery (such as rotting rafters), or the complexities of installing mechanical and technical systems in the same space, meant that the design team had be flexible and find creative and cost-effective solutions to the challenges. That we all remain on speaking terms is a testament to everyone’s goodwill, tenacity and commitment to the project!
Retaining the old building helped us contain costs, but also meant we had to give up our plan to keep operating throughout most of the construction. In June 2008, a skeleton staff moved to a temporary office across the street and the West End Cultural Centre shut down its venue. But the music didn’t stop. We continued to present concerts at different venues in the city, including free concerts and workshops for local community groups and schools in the west central neighbourhood.
More than just a building
For close to a year now, residents and supporters have watched as our new home took shape. Many have participated in the redevelopment – through community forums, recycling activities, and as volunteers. Some even helped us rebuild, through an employment training initiative for community residents offered with House of Opportunities and supported by Neighbourhoods Alive.
When we set out on this journey, we did not see success
as just the development of a distinctive building on the corner of Sherbrook
and Ellice. Success means a dynamic arts organization that supports more
community programming, community economic growth, a better patron and
performer experience, and is environmentally and financially sustainable.
reuse, recycle – the WECC does them all
Green construction and operation
First – reduce
Next – reuse
Finally – recycle
|586 Ellice Avenue at Sherbrook, Winnipeg, MB R3B 1Z8 phone (204) 783-6918 fax (204) 783-1884|