Green Thumb Theatre unveiled a $1.2-million plan to transform it into a rehearsal hall. The theatre company, which develops plays relevant to the lives of children and young adults, said it’s confident it will raise the money in time for a grand opening next fall.
“We’re delighted because Green Thumb Theatre will be restoring our much-cherished heritage schoolhouse to its original splendour and beyond,” said Pat Munton, the school’s principal. “It’s just amazing, it brings tears to my eyes, frankly.”
The Carleton schoolhouse was erected in 1896; other buildings were added in later years. The schoolhouse was in continuous use until three years ago, when fire gutted its insides. A section of the roof remained under a blue tarp on Tuesday.
Patti Bacchus, chair of the Vancouver Board of Education, called the arrangement between her organization and Green Thumb Theatre a win-win. Not only will the heritage site be repurposed, she said, but students at the school will get the added benefit of exposure to some of the top theatre educators in B.C.
“The fire that occurred here was, indeed, devastating,” Ms. Bacchus said. “We have been very concerned about finding a solution to that. I have to be honest – for quite some time, it looked fairly bleak. We made several approaches to the provincial government to fund the repairs of the building, and those were declined. At one point, it was recommended to us that we proceed with demolition.”
Ms. Bacchus said the board was “delighted” when it was approached by the theatre company.
What to do with the schoolhouse, located in the city’s Collingwood neighbourhood, has been a controversial issue since the fire. Heritage Vancouver recently placed the building at the top of its list of endangered sites. Dwindling enrolment has also led to questions about whether the rest of the school should be kept open.
B.C. New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix attended Tuesday’s announcement at the school, which is in his Vancouver-Kingsway riding. Mr. Dix declared it a “wonderful day” and tipped his cap to members of the community who spoke against the schoolhouse’s demolition.
“We were in public hearings, and students at the school who were in this building came and talked about it,” Mr. Dix said. “… They talked about how important it was to them that this building be restored, that the tradition they were part of and that goes back in this community for so long be restored and brought back. I think it’s an extraordinary thing when young people in Grade 3, or 4, or 5, take up a cause.”
After his remarks, the NDP Leader donated $1,000 to the project.
Patrick McDonald, Green Thumb Theatre’s artistic director, said the company hopes to raise much of the $1.2-million through municipal and federal arts programs.
“This is a very attainable goal,” he said.