The Canadian Film Centre — that cultural, historical and community jewel on Bayview Avenue — is getting a revamp, thanks to the federal Infrastructure Stimulus Fund.
The feds, in conjunction with the province and the City of Toronto, are kicking in $7.5 million for the project, with an additional $1.5 million coming from fundraising. The funds will be used to restore and renovate the grounds and buildings, and add a building and an extension to provide more space for students at the centre.
The centre has fallen into disrepair over the years and there is asbestos, which must be removed. For staff and students at the centre, the news of a revamp is welcome.
But there’s a catch — or two.
Under the federal rules placed on the stimulus cash, all projects must be wrapped up by March 31. The deadline has presented a steep challenge to projects nation wide.
Adding to the pressure at the film centre is an appeal put to the Ontario Municipal Board following the city’s Committee of Adjustments decision to grant permission to the centre to complete the project. The appeal was registered by one of the centre’s neighbours, apparently dissatisfied with the plans.
“We’ve had some neighbours who have not been so open to the change,” said Barry Patterson, the centre’s communications director, who was at a loss to explain what the specific problems may have been.
“There are always those people who see any kind of change as not beneficial,” he said, adding the appeal is doubly confounding because community members were invited to sit in on consultation meetings.
“We’ve always been very mindful of the neighbours, and been very transparent,” Patterson said.
Through the consultation process, the centre has made some concessions, including reducing an extension to the gatehouse from two storeys to one and abandoning plans to build a larger parking lot and a groundskeeper’s shed.
In the meantime, the centre is charging full speed ahead in repairing and correcting the more dilapidated areas. Because of the centre’s heritage designation, however, a slap of paint won’t quite cut it.
“We’ve been consulting with the best people working historical restoration and heritage preservation in Canada,” said Patterson. “The buildings will have to really fit in and honour the trees and historical nature that is on this land. There are heritage arborists involved.”
As for the planned expansions, the centre is aiming for authenticity.
“We have to be very sensitive to the fact that this is a heritage property. We want to make the smallest footprint possible in expansion,” Patterson said.
Those expansions, provided the centre makes it over the OMB hurdle, will include an addition to the gatehouse, and a single-storey actors’ conservatory over what is now an unused pool and cabana.
In defending the choice of creating new building and ditching the original pool, Patterson references the original owner of the property, famed Toronto industrialist E.P. Taylor, who’s family donated the property to the city in the late 1980s.
“E.P. Taylor asked for this land and this property to be used for cultural organizations specifically. The pool doesn’t serve that purpose for us.”
Asked whether they’ll meet the deadline, Patterson is confident.
“We definitely are proceeding forward, we have every intention to complete the project by the 31st. We think the changes will benefit the community and serve the neighbours well.”
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