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Theatre café and lobby. Image: Saint John Theatre Company

Supply Chain Snags Hold Up Sydney Street Courthouse Conversion

By Scott Pettigrew Feb 23, 2023 | 9:38 AM

Supply chain issues are slowing but not stopping the Sydney Street courthouse theatre project.

“The project is still full speed ahead as far as we’re concerned,” says Saint John Theatre Company executive director Stephen Tobias, in an interview with Huddle.

“We’ve long since learned to write all our plans in pencil as the world changes around us. But the working plan we have right now is that we’re gearing up to get major shovels in the ground by spring of 2024.”

He says all the groundwork has been laid for the start of the major construction that would see the 10,000-square-foot space grow to 25,000 square feet.

He says all the major services and electrical are in the building, the hill behind the property has been dug out in preparation for the expansion, and the interior is prepped and ready to go.

The main ingredient that’s missing is a reliable source of steel for the ambitious project. They’ve seen months-long delays getting it and other construction material, as well as significant price volatility.

“We have a 200-year-old stone building that suffered a massive fire 100 years ago,” Tobias explains. “So, they built a steel-frame building inside a 200-year-old stone building, and we’re attaching an addition onto the rear of that.”

It’s a complex project at the best of times, but the lingering effects of supply chain delays are causing more uncertainty.

“We’ll want to know that major pieces of the infrastructure are ready to go before we pull the trigger on digging holes in the ground.”

He says in addition to making the building as environmentally friendly as possible, the impacts of the pandemic have also played into the plans for the theatre, changing designs to better suit a post-pandemic world.

“We added another elevator to the building to create better movement, we expanded the size of the lobbies, we reconfigured the bathroom entrances and exits to improve the flow of people… we increased the backstage areas.

“It’s not a big stretch to think that five years down the road, a couple of years after we get this facility open, there could be something else that rolls out and we’re going to be really grateful that we made those changes to the building when we had the chance.”

EXP Architects is the designer of the new project, with Riverview’s Avant Garde Construction Management doing the “heavy lifting.” Saint John’s CBCL is also playing a supporting role.

The facility will house box office, backstage, dressing and rehearsal spaces, as well as spots for administration. There will also be a lobby café and a small rehearsal studio. It will be capable of hosting up to three events simultaneously.

And then, of course, there’s the theatre space itself.

“It’s designed to be flexible in terms of how the seating can be managed,” Tobias says. He notes the venue will hold between 200 to 250 seats “which is a missing piece of cultural infrastructure in the community”.

Tobias says the project continues to be important not only for the Saint John Theatre Company but for the community as a whole.

“We own the BMO Studio Theatre, which is a 100-seat, high-tech studio theatre. We have the Imperial Theatre, which is 900 seats [and a] gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility.”

“But there’s a range of programming that isn’t working in the community because we don’t have that mid-range space that’s designed to house theatre, music, dance, and other arts cultural events… [that] don’t justify using a 900 seat facility.”

“It’s a necessary piece of infrastructure that is really going to benefit our community and our cultural groups.”

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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