Columnist hopes to see the R.E.M. Lee Theatre maintained for many years to come.

REM Lee Theatre facing ‘lamentable’ reality

"The REM Lee Theatre is the most important public building in Terrace"

If the School District were to hold a referendum today to spend $5.75 million to build a free-standing theatre, how would you vote?

Such a referendum was held 41 years ago ($700,000 in 1975) and the answer was YES. The result is the REM Lee Theatre.

Will the REM Lee still serve the community 41 years from now, in 2057, as it has for the past 41 years?

The answer to that question is an emphatic NO unless we commit to a radical change in the way we provide for and care for that facility.

The REM Lee Theatre’s financial reality today is lamentable! We could blame the provincial government whose contemptible curtailment of school district financial discretion has suffocated our school board’s ability to provide the finances essential to the long-term care of the REM Lee.

However, blaming the provincial government and hoping that the political philosophy governing school district finances in 1975 will someday be restored amounts to avoiding the challenges facing the theatre today.

What is the REM Lee Theatre’s role in our community? I will argue that the REM Lee is the most important public building in Terrace – bar none.

There are many essential public buildings in the community: the hospital, the fire hall, and the schools to name just a few. Such buildings are essential; they are the community’s heart, lungs, and kidneys.

The REM Lee Theatre is of a different kind; it is the community’s soul. Participation and attendance at events such as the annual Pacific Northwest Music Festival attest to that designation.

In the theatre manager’s words the REM Lee “is part of the dream that almost every child in this area spends their school life striving for.”

The dollar is not an appropriate unit with which to measure the value of a community’s soul. However, in the context of the prevailing political philosophy (dominated by a short-sighted fixation on “taxpayers’ dollars”) let us look at the REM Lee’s costs at a personal level.

Statistics Canada Census reports the agglomeration population of Terrace to be close to 16,000.

On that basis the REM Lee’s average annual cost (2013-2016) amounts to less than $10 per person. The average annual deficit is under $8 per person. The most deplorable figure is the average annual amount the School District manages to spend on the building’s maintenance: 34 cents per person! That amounts to one cup of coffee (plus tip) per decade!

These numbers do not include donations from community organizations and businesses. An initiative of that kind has been launched to replace the theatre’s seats.

Last year the Terrace Concert Society replaced the theatre’s stage floor. That was not a one-shot deal.

The Concert Society (in urgent need of volunteers to join its board) established a reserve, backed up by a policy, requiring at least $600 to be paid annually into a savings account so as to build up the funds needed to replace the stage floor again in 2025.

The REM Lee Theatre will not be around in 2057 unless we take measures now to provide long-term financial security for the building, its furnishings and its equipment.

The School District is unable to provide it on its own under current legislation.

Long-term financial security for the community’s soul calls for a joint effort by the School District, the City of Terrace, and the Regional District.

We need a tripartite umbrella agreement covering a range of long-term legal instruments wherein each party assumes an appropriate share of the responsibility to secure the REM Lee Theatre’s long-term financial viability.

The bottom line will unavoidably mean an additional tax. (Just $1 per person per month would bring in nearly $200,000).

A new tax levy openly designated on our tax bills to support the REM Lee Theatre would confirm our determination to respect what the community built for us in 1975.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator living in Terrace, B.C.

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