YARMOUTH, N.S. – An open house is being held at the former Arcadia school on Wednesday, July 18, to give the public an opportunity to see the building that the Yarmouth Arts Regional Council is looking to turn into its new location for Th’YARC.
The open house will run from 6-8 p.m. People are invited to tour the building and to share their ideas for the property.
The Municipality of Yarmouth and Th’YARC have been working to finalize the sale of the building. Yarmouth Municipal Council approved a motion at a March 28 council meeting agreeing to the terms of the purchase sale agreement. Shortly thereafter the Yarmouth Arts Regional Council erected a sign at the foot of the driveway that reads: Th’YARC Coming Soon! However, the purchase is only just being finalized now. Part of the reason for the delay, said Yarmouth Warden Leland Anthony, is because of survey work that had to take place involving abutting property owners. Last week Anthony said he expected the purchase to be completed by this week at the latest.
The former school was constructed in 1958 and expanded in 1964. It closed to students in June 2016, although parts of the building were later occupied for several months as offices from the Yarmouth hospital had to relocate due to a flood. The building was turned over to the municipality from the Tri-County Regional School Board once it was no longer in use.
Last week the Municipality of Yarmouth and Th’YARC issued a media release stating they share a vision for the future of the building.
“The municipality is pleased to work with Th’YARC. The decision of council to sell the divested school building to the Yarmouth Arts Regional Council is a responsible stewardship decision with significant cultural benefits,” said Warden Anthony. In an interview he added the sale will save the municipality the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the property and he said they’re pleased to see the property repurposed.
Th’YARC’s president Mitch Bonnar stated, “Th’YARC wants to create a vibrant, inclusive space, both indoors and outdoors, where residents and visitors alike can enjoy the cultural diversity and talent-rich communities of the area.”
In an interview, Bonnar was asked about being inclusive as this is often a criticism directed at the arts council – that it is not inclusive.
“Yes, I do agree with that because we just don’t have the space to do it. That’s what we tried to accomplish 10, 11 years ago,” he said, referring to wanting to build a new larger facility.
Successive town councils have not supported Parade Street as a location for this, noting an arts centre located in the downtown core was identified in a Yarmouth Downtown Blueprint plan, prepared by Ekistics Planning in 2009, as being a key component to downtown revitalization.
The town is moving forward with an arts centre project on Collins Street. It has held many public consultations sessions concerning various aspects of the project: concept, design, governance, etc. It says the cost of the overall project will fall in the $25 million range.
The town and Th’YARC haven’t been able to reach enough common ground to move ahead in solidarity on one project. And having two arts centre projects on the table has led to a lot of divisiveness within the community. When asked about this, Bonnar agrees it is not a healthy environment. “It’s destructive to the arts community. It’s destructive to the region. It’s destructive to funding. It is absolutely destructive, there’s no question about it,” he said. Asked if there is a way to turn things around he said, “I don’t really know. We’ve made our decision and we are moving forward.”
For the foreseeable future, the arts council will now be responsible for the upkeep of two buildings – the one on Parade Street and the one in Arcadia – which Bonnar acknowledges will create a financial burden.
“We intend to get some activity going at the new place right away to cover the bills. We’ll rent space and start holding activities that will generate some income,” he said.
Th’YARC’s intention is to see two theatre spaces built at the former school. The rest of the building – the interior and exterior – would see some updating. Bonnar said they don't have firm figures in place but he’s guessing the work would fall in the $8 million range.
Th’YARC says it has seen an increase in memberships and it will also be doing a membership drive to aid with funding applications. Asked what happens if they can’t get the needed funding to move forward Bonnar said, “That’s not a consideration at the moment, we’ll get the funding, either that or we’ll have one hell of a fundraiser.”
Asked if he thinks Yarmouth is large enough for two new arts centres within a short distance from one another, Bonnar is quick with his answer: “Absolutely not.”
“To be honest, the feds and the province are not going to support two,” he said, adding Th’YARC plans to continue to forge forward with its plans.