Interior renovations continue at Blyth Memorial Hall - March 2, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
While the renovation work continues at Blyth Memorial Hall, the interior of the structure already looks drastically different than when the project began last year.
As part of the Blyth Arts and Culture 14/19 Initiative Inc., the structure is undergoing major renovations, including significant changes to the layout of the building, new infrastructure and technological implementation and bigger seats being installed in the theatre of the building.
On Feb. 22, North Huron Director of Recreation and Facilities Pat Newson and Economic Development Officer Connie Goodall led a walkthrough of the structure, pointing out the major changes to the structure.
“There are a lot of changes but the character of the building is being kept,” Newson said. “Everything will look good.”
Newson said many of the changes may not be noticeable, as things like infrastructure and safety improvements are hidden behind walls and beneath floors.
She said the building was approaching the end of its usable life cycle and these renovations will add at least another 50 years to its life.
One of the most noticeable changes, according to Newson is the expansion of the walkway in what is called the link in the building. The link is the walkway from the ticket office to the lobby of Memorial Hall and borders on the Blyth Centre for the Arts art gallery.
The structure has been expanded to prevent bottlenecking, eliminating the space under the outdoor overhang at the front of the building.
Newson also pointed out that a new public address (PA) system had been installed in the building and the speakers will be mounted throughout the structure, including in the link.
The only significant changes to the art gallery are the sealing up of a door on the north wall, near the northeast corner of the room. The large sliding door and a door on the eastern side of the room will remain. The floor is being repaired, and the drywall is being replaced from floor to ceiling.
Newson also pointed out that, in front of the doorways in the building, recessed areas had been built to allow floor mats to be on the same level as the floor, making it easier to limit any messes from traffic to those doors.
The stairway in the link has been redesigned to have the first section of it oriented east-to-west instead of north-to-south, which is going to allow for less congestion, Newson explained. The space has been changed to provide easier access to the elevator and accommodate two larger washrooms that will replace the existing four washrooms.
Many changes are underway in the lower hall including separating the bar and kitchen spaces. The bar remains at the west end of the room but the kitchen has been moved to the northwest corner of the space. A janitor’s hall has also been installed on the south side of the hall, which is accessible from the lower hall.
The lower hall was previously concrete over dirt, which led to cooler temperatures. Newson explained that in-floor heating had been installed in the space to battle the cold.
The space will still fit 150 people as its footprint hasn’t changed significantly, Newson said, however it will be a more attractive venue for events.
The kitchen will include brand new equipment and be functional for every level of culinary practices. A pantry, including an extra freezer and chiller and storage for food, has also been added. Outdoor storage has also been included for grounds maintenance equipment and a staff bathroom will be installed before the project is completed to allow staff working in the kitchen or bar an alternative to using the public washrooms.
The northern staircase is being redesigned and is accessible both from outside and from the lower hall, while the front stairs of the structure, at the eastern entrance, are also being renovated.
The columns in the lower hall were often a problem for people hosting events as, in years past, they had been boxed in for fire purposes. The new column covers will be much smaller and have less of a impact on the usability of the space, Newson said.
A special heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system has been selected for the site. The unit is quiet, Newson said, and won’t interrupt performances in the upper hall.
Seats are not yet installed in the upper hall, but the floor, which was removed earlier in the renovation, has been replaced.
Newson explained the space has a new sound system, a giant projector screen suspended above the stage and projectors. The stage lighting system has also been redesigned and installed with new supports. A new feature wall has been installed at the back of the upper hall that will block light from the eastern door and provide a place for sound engineers to set up during concerts.
Support rooms such as the green room and dressing rooms will all be refurbished.
The sound and lighting booth, part of the balcony of the upper hall, will retain the same footprint but include new technology to allow for modern applications in the theatre such as projectors.
Controls for the lights in the structure will be located throughout the building, Newson said. They will be easily accessible and usable by all renters without hiring any special technicians.
The upper hall will have 379 total seats, now with more leg room and more accessible seating when the renovation is completed, Newson said. Prior to the beginning of the renovation, there were 444 seats in the structure.
The plaques featuring World War I and World War II veterans will have two separate spaces in the hall. For Blyth Festival season usage or when the space the plaques normally have at the west end of the hall is needed, the plaques can be moved to the east end of the upper hall. The new sites will include lights to highlight the plaques.
The renovations are set to be completed in May, when the Blyth Festival will begin to prepare for the 2017 theatre season.