Town pushed to decide on arts centre

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 08:28 am

Music teacher Nicole Hounjet directs band students at the Alberta High School of Performing Arts. The Foothills School Division asked the Town of Okotoks to will join the division in a joint performing arts centre at the school.
Music teacher Nicole Hounjet directs band students at the Alberta High School of Performing Arts. The Foothills School Division asked the Town of Okotoks to will join the division in a joint performing arts centre at the school.
Phillip Currie/OWW

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Plans to modernize Okotoks’ public high school are putting pressure on town councillors to decide on a proposal to build a new arts centre.

Council was approached by Foothills School Division representatives at its March 24 meeting seeking a partnership to build a performing arts centre at the Foothills Composite High School as part of its modernization.

With the $28 million project scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016, Drew Chipman, Foothills School Division assistant superintendent of corporate services, needs the Town to make a decision in two months if it wants to join the proposed partnership.

“We will have to be moving forward on our plans within that two month, two-and-a-half month period,” he said.

Chipman told councillors a shared facility with the division, whether it be attached or unattached to the school, would not only prevent the town from purchasing land for a facility, but reduce costs to taxpayers and offer adequate parking at the school and nearby Foothills Centennial Centre.

Todd Schmekel, the division’s assistant superintendent of learning services, said a shared facility will create a synergy between the community and high school. He added expertise at the high school can be shared with the Town from professional set designers to a lights and sound technician.

Schmekel said the community and other school groups could make use of the centre for school speakers and presentation due to the larger space.

Schmekel said the school would only require use of the facility in the evenings for two to four weeks for the school’s musical and a week for an annual festival.

The Foothills School Division isn’t the only one with plans for a new performing arts centre in Okotoks. Four Okotokians involved in previous feasibility studies related to building a performing arts centre in town approached council earlier this year with a vision for a cultural campus for the entire region. They are Reg Gothard, Dale Fea, Russ Wheatley and Leslie Duchak.

“We are looking to promote Okotoks as a cultural destination for the entire region,” said Gothard. “We see a huge population that we could cater to with a larger centre.”

Gothard said a facility with 750 seats will attract big name artists to the community, as well as a variety of genres from bands and singers to operas and ballets. He sees the facility also housing an art gallery, library, museum and foyer with large windows facing the west that could be used for weddings and expos.

“All of these facilities are small and as we growth they are going to be hopelessly small,” he said. “Lets settle all the problems with one centre.”

Allan Boss, Town of Okotoks team leader for cultural and historical services, is tasked to research three options, as outlined by a feasibility study performed in the community in 2012, for a performing arts centre and present the information to council at its April 28 meeting. The options include a partnership with the Foothills School Division, a downtown location and a facility outside of the community. Boss is also gathering data from various cultural facilities across Canada.

“I think the most important thing for council and for citizens to consider is not the present but the future,” said Boss.


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