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Theatre group hopes to get its thumbs on heritage schoolhouse

Green Thumb Theatre campaigning to convert Carleton Hall School House into its new headquarters

Green Thumb Theatre has had two shows on Broadway, its works translated into 14 languages including Hebrew and Japanese and plays performed by more than 200 theatre companies worldwide.

But for 36 years, the award-winning theatre company that creates shows about social issues for children and youth, has lacked a permanent home.

On Sept. 13, Green Thumb kicked off a capital campaign to make Vancouvers oldest remaining school building, Carleton Hall Schoolhouse, its long-term residence.

Green Thumb aims to raise $1 million to renovate the schoolhouse that was built in 1896 and an adjacent building known as the barn, which was built in 1908. The historic schoolhouse at Sir Guy Carleton elementary on Kingsway near Joyce has been vacant since it faced arson in 2008, and the barn was boarded up in 2009.

The theatre company hopes to receive a $150,000 cultural infrastructure grant from the city so Cornerstone Architects, which is working for free until Green Thumb raises funds, could replace the scorched roof and trusses.

Green Thumb also hopes to receive $450,000 from Cultural Spaces Canada, from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Then it would have to raise only $400,000.

This is a very, very, very doable project, said Patrick McDonald, artistic director of Green Thumb Theatre. Were saving a heritage building that was going to be demolished You just go, OK, youre going to have a little jewel right in your neighbourhood in the East Side.

Heritage Vancouver listed Carleton Hall third on its 2010 list of top 10 endangered sites in the city.

The province would only approve $75,000 to demolish the decrepit schoolhouse in 2010.

They couldnt take the $75,000 and put a new roof on it or take the $75,000 and give it to Green Thumb as a startup cost to raising the money, McDonald said.

The theatre company wants to convert the derelict schoolhouse thats tented with blue tarps into two rehearsal halls. That would allow concurrent rehearsals for the seven or eight weeks a year Green Thumb has rehearsals that overlap, for it to save money on renting halls and a revenue stream from rentals to arts and community groups for the remainder of the year.

Green Thumb would renovate the barn to be the companys administrative offices.

McDonald notes the Collingwood location gives the primarily touring company speedy access to neighbouring municipalities.

Green Thumb plans to hold drama workshops with area youth and invite students to visit the rehearsal space to learn more about educational theatre production. McDonald said the Arts Umbrella non-profit organization for children and youth has already expressed interest in holding acting workshops for kids in the refurbished schoolhouse.

Minister of Education George Abbott and the Vancouver School Board have agreed to allow Green Thumb to lease the schoolhouse for a dollar a year for 20 years. Rental rates for the barn have been set with one rate for the first 10 years, a slight increase for years 11 to 15, and a further increase for years 16 to 20.

But in year[s] 16 to 20, were at relatively the same rate were at in our office as of today, McDonald said. So it really helps our finances for the future, as well.

Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus is pleased an arts organization geared to children will preserve the heritage buildings and bring more activity to a school that faced closure a year ago.

If all the funds fall into place, McDonald says the theatre company that recently lost more than $25,000 of equipment in a robbery of its offices, would ideally move into its new home by next fall.

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Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi