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'Get it done': Burnaby approves $55M theatre redevelopment at Shadbolt Centre

'Our arts community have been waiting for this for a long time,' said Mayor Mike Hurley.

The stage is set for a new theatre in Burnaby as council approved the next phase of a redevelopment at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts.

The new project involves demolishing the aging James Cowan Theatre and constructing a new four-storey structure with 364 seats and a balcony. The existing facility was originally built as a gym eight decades ago.

While Mayor Mike Hurley expressed concerns last week about the timing of the project amid a series of other major community centre redevelopments that are coming in significantly over budget, he said he came around to the theatre redevelopment.

“I looked at what might happen if we delayed it, and the cost would keep going up each month, and I think now’s the time to get on with it and get it done,” Hurley said at a council meeting Feb. 26.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time, and I know our arts community have been waiting for this for a long time.”

The rest of council agreed.

“I’m happy to see that this is probably the only project which is coming in with a reasonable price tag,” Coun. Pietro Calendino said.

The project was originally estimated to cost between $40 million and $45 million including contingencies, according to a January 2023 report.

The city’s current five-year financial plan budgets $55 million for the new theatre.

The new theatre will be “versatile,” with flexible floor space and studios that can be used for multimedia, traditional and contemporary theatre, cultural performances, large events and celebrations, trade shows and conferences, according to a city press release.

The staff report recommending the project said the James Cowan Theatre is “in need of significant upgrades, is past its useful life, and is not wheelchair accessible” and the press release added it is not earthquake compliant.

The report said: “The facility has been designed to meet the arts and cultural community’s space needs for the next 10 years.”

That might not sound like a long time, but James Lota, the city’s general manager of lands and facilities, said it doesn’t mean the new building will only last 10 years.

He said staff expect the theatre to fill community needs for the next decade and beyond, but the city expects “larger and/or more facilities” to be needed as the city’s population grows.

The Shadbolt will remain operational during construction of the new theatre.

The city will cut down 11 trees as a result of the redevelopment to make way for construction access. The city will plant 28 new trees at a later date.

Construction is expected to begin this year, and the city anticipates the new theatre will open to the public in 2027.