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Theatre Ancaster wins Trillium grant to renovate Old Firehall Arts Centre

By Mike Pearson, News staff

Theatre Ancaster will receive newly renovated rehearsal space next year thanks to a Trillium grant and free labour supplied by Mohawk College construction students.

The non-profit, charitable community theatre group was recently awarded a $74,700 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to upgrade and improve safety conditions in the second floor rehearsal area in the Old Firehall Arts Centre at 334 Wilson St. E.

The city-owned building’s upper level currently includes small rehearsal rooms which will be reconfigured into a larger space for youth programs as well as rehearsals for Theatre Ancaster productions.

Performances will continue to be staged at the Ancaster High School auditorium.

Along with the expanded rehearsal space, new flooring will replace existing carpeted surfaces for easier maintenance. The upgrades will also accommodate extra storage space, plus a new laundry room, renovated kitchen area, plumbing and electrical upgrades.

Along with rehearsals, the second floor is used for events such as summer youth programming, which has expanded to six weeks. Youth theatre programs are available for children as young as 3.

Gord Conroy, Theatre Ancaster president, said Mohawk students will complete the hands-on work during a two-week period in March of next year. The renovation will not increase the overall size of the facility.

“We can’t increase the square footage but we can make better use of the footpad that is there,” said Conroy.

The Hamilton All Star Jazz Band, also a non-profit charitable organization, uses the building’s first floor presentation room for rehearsals and shows.

Brad MacDonald, coordinator of Mohawk’s  construction engineering technician building and renovation program, said students will gain valuable hands-on experience as part of the two-year diploma program. Second year students will demonstrate construction skills while first year students gain real-world construction knowledge.

In past years, Mohawk students have worked on several other non-profit projects, including the conversion of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Hamilton’s north end to a community centre, and projects for Christian Horizons and Habitat for Humanity.

“For the second year students, it’s really quite an experience,” said MacDonald. For some students, the Theatre Ancaster project will be an introduction to the real world of construction, while others may have already lined up full-time jobs or other business opportunities upon graduation.

This is the second time in the last decade that Theatre Ancaster has benefitted from Trillium funding to renovate the Old Firehall Arts Centre. When the former fire station was first converted to a performing arts centre in 2004, the first phase of the project included new air conditioning, rehearsal space for both organizations and a performance space for up to 100 spectators. Upgrades were funded in part by a Trillium grant, which also supported Theatre Ancaster’s production of Oklahoma.

“We’ve enjoyed wonderful support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation,” said Conroy.

While renovations are in progress, Conroy said the theatre group hopes to use the Ancaster High School auditorium for temporary rehearsal space.

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