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STAR on 54th theatre complex receives provincial grant

Posted on January 18, 2024 by Taber Times
Times Photo By Trevor Busch PROVINCIAL FUNDS: Local dignitaries from the Town and Municipal District of Taber, including representatives from the STAR Board, gathered together at the Coulee Medical Clinic last week with STAR Executive Director Joel Mills and Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter to receive a major CFEP grant of $535,279 from the province to assist with the completion of the STAR on 54th theatre complex.

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times
editor@tabertimes.com

Creating a dedicated facility for Taber’s performing arts community came one step closer to reality last week with the provincial government handing over a major grant through the Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP).

Local dignitaries gathered at the Coulee Medical Clinic on Thursday afternoon, where Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter provided a cheque for $535,279 to the Society for Taber Arts and Recreation (STAR).

Finding a home has been a long and tedious process full of fits, starts and various locations, but that search has come to an end as renovations continue inside the historic LDS Church on 54 Avenue. Now known as the STAR on 54th, this summer crews were engaged in gutting portions of the interior, renovating others, and constructing a fire wall to split the building in tentative anticipation of a Phase One opening.

“Very much looking forward to this for very many future endeavours and great things to come,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “STAR on 54th is a great, great project and it is going to be a great concept.”

STAR on 54th is intended to be part stage, part cinema, and part community centre and events venue. Once complete, the 26,000 square foot performing arts space will be capable of seating 220, and will include theatre space, a concession stand, gymnasium, gym and fitness centre, boxing gym and meeting rooms.

The Town and Municipal District of Taber previously contributed a combined $450,000 to help get the project started.

MD of Taber Reeve Tamara Miyanaga was pleased to see the STAR board tackle renovation of a historic building in the community.

“Even though it’s located in the town of Taber, it is a regional project that will be a fantastic opportunity for our residents to come and enjoy the arts, to gather and to be with everyone. On behalf of the MD, I’d like to thank the STAR board, and all the volunteers who’ve worked hard to push it to this next level and to take it to the next step. We need other opportunities in our region, and this will bring that and we’re so looking forward to seeing a building that has had lots of purpose in our community now being repurposed together, and joining people together for another purpose.”

STAR executive director Joel Mills talked about the vision he has for the facility, and how he hopes it will be utilized to bring Taberites together.

“Our big idea with the STAR building is to create that bridge, to create as many bridges as we can, for as many of our citizens here and abroad, with a big focus on the youth in the building. Because, in my opinion, the more bridges we can create for relationships with the youth in our town, whether that be through the performing arts, or sports or whatever happens to be going on in that building, we want to make as many bridges as we can for these youth and for the people in our community so they have a place to go, that they’re welcome, they’re comfortable, they can express themselves in whatever art they decide that they want to pursue. It’s been an amazing project.”

Mills thanked Dr. Ryan Torrie for his involvement in the project and helping to get STAR on 54th off the drawing board and onto the launch pad.

“It takes a visionary to see a building like that and think this is what we’re gonna make happen. But dreamers make things happen. And when I sat at my first board meeting with the STAR board, and I was not the executive director yet, we were talking about how the building was going to highlight our community. And that was really where it took me out right there. I decided I need to be involved more deeply with this. If the idea of this building is to highlight our community, that’s what I’m all about is highlighting our community, highlighting the people of southern Alberta, because we are a special breed of people down here. And I want that to be known. And we’re gonna let you know everybody can experience that through STAR, whether that be through the performing arts to the sporting, or through the recreation we offer there. It’s going to be an amazing facility. And this just gives us more fuel to continue driving forward to that goal. The goal is to highlight Taber, highlight southern Alberta, and then make a good place for our youth and for our community. So thank you guys for everything, this is going to be amazing. I’m excited. I’m pumped about being here right now and accepting this because all of a sudden, we got another round, baby!”

Previous efforts toward constructing this type of facility in Taber have stumbled over the appropriateness of various buildings, varying degrees of public and private support, and especially cost. Torrie referenced the long progression through various iterations of facility proposals over the years, and how he eventually became involved in the present project.

“It’s a kind of a miracle. I don’t think I’m the visionary like many before me, I just got involved. Many others worked for a long time trying to get a facility. I think we’re probably the biggest town in southern Alberta that I know doesn’t have a theatre. We’ve been trying, and many before me have been trying and everyone’s just been pushing and trying to get it there. And then the Town had requested an advisory board to try and help put this together.”

Torrie said many people and organizations in the community have come together to help get STAR on 54th over the finish line.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had their old building that was built in the mid-1920s that they were decommissioning and trying to decide what to do with it, and (it was) given it to the local arts community. So somehow our prayers were heard, and they decided to donate it for free. So it’s a 26,000 square foot facility, which is phenomenal. It’s got a gymnasium and kitchen theatre space. It’s amazing, a balcony above and seats about 220 people. We want the community to come together and have activities that they can do together. We’ve really worked hard as we put together the board for this organization. We have representatives from all the major cultural groups, or German or Dutch groups. To get us here, the Town of Taber donated about $250,000. The M.D. donated $200,000. Local donors, just in-cash donations was about $300,000, and then in kind donations just been massive. We’ve had all kinds of construction guys donate their time, their equipment, their expertise.” 

Torrie indicated a major expense for the project has been installing an HVAC system for the entire building.

“We’re so excited, this will help us with one of the big hurdles, getting the HVAC system up to current code. It’s a big, old building, you wouldn’t really know it but there’s multiple add-ons. So all of this has to be a brand new, the HVAC system, which is very expensive. And anytime you have a theatre you have to have a sprinkler system which is a huge cost and when you’re trying to add a sprinkler system after the building has been built, it really complicates things. So it’s very expensive, and this will be a massive kick to help us get through that and get us into phase three which is the final step to get the theatre completed so we’ll have a place together. The facility can still be in use for other things as well so it’s just going to be a huge asset in our community.”

STAR on 54th is actively engaged in trying to bring as many community organizations as possible together under one roof. Hunter became involved at the provincial level in helping to secure a grant for the project.

“I was invited to a board meeting, and they were able to show the value proposition about why they’re doing what they’re doing. And again, the few paths that I had with Cardston playgroup there, I realized that this is a community builder. And one of the things that I do here as the MLA is I work with Low German Mennonites, large scale groups and a large Filipino population here. And there’s no better place to be able to bring them all together than when they’re working on a play together. Sports is a great community builder as well. So I think this is a project that will bring community together. And that’s why I wanted to support it. So we’ve been working on this in terms of the CFEP part for a couple of years.”

Phase 2, according to Mills, will include the gymnasium and boardrooms, and there are plans for a teen drop-in centre, arts and after-school clubs, and the existing commercial kitchen for cooking classes. Further down the road, the facility’s Phase 3 opening will include a second-run movie theatre.

“We are slated to have the inspector come first week in February to verify the fire alarm. Once that’s verified, we’ll get an occupancy permit and Phase One will be off to the races. Phase Two, which is everything south of the chapel now, these two will be up and running as fast as we can get it with the HVAC system. There’s not a ton left to do with the HVAC. Mechanically, the plans have been engineered and so they’re ready to go. So now it’s just putting the work in, the HVAC system done and then we’ll be in Phase Two, and we’ll be pounding into Phase Three which will be the theatre and the performing arts centre. When we get to that point, the big code item that will have to happen will be a sprinkler system. But currently we have an engineer next week who’s going to be on site to start making the plans for that. So I’m very confident February, we’re gonna have Phase One open. We’re going to get Phase Three open hopefully by the beginning of 2025.” 

“We have about a 5,000 square foot facility for the workout gym and boxing club in the basement,” said Torrie. “And that’s been fully renovated. It’s a beautiful asset, I think to the community and just again, bringing our community together through whether it’s athletics, arts, recreation, those different events will be a huge blessing.”

At the announcement on Thursday, Torrie said country artist Corb Lund has agreed to perform at the grand opening, with the date to be announced when the project is finalized.

“These kind of community centres bring people together and re-establish connections. And so this building is really unique. It has a perfect location like I mentioned for a theatre that we’ll see about 220 seats, which is perfect for a small community theatre, you don’t want too big. But you can house a nice group. So we’re excited to get to that phase, it’ll be really nice event for our facility.”

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