Kitchener's Centre In The Square to get $4.35M for accessibility renovations

Kitchener's Centre in the Square will be undergoing renovations focused on improving accessibility at the venue. The federal and provincial governments announced financial support for the project on Tuesday.

Federal and provincial governments will take on most of cost for accessibility overhaul

Kitchener's Centre In The Square theatre, the region's largest performing arts venue, will be getting a $4.35 million renovation mainly focused on improving accessibility. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

Kitchener's Centre In The Square theatre will be getting a $4.35 million overhaul aimed at improving accessibility, it was announced Tuesday.

The majority of the funding will come from the federal and provincial governments.

The theatre, which is the region's largest performing arts venue, seats about 2,000 people and was host to more than 158 events last year.

The upgrades to the venue will come in the form of two projects. The first will be a total renovation of 12 of the theatre's bathrooms and will involve replacement of plumbing, ventilation and other utilities, as well installation of handrails and automatic door openers to improve accessibility.

A second project will replace and reconfigure 1,900 theatre seats with the aim of improving seating accessibility and access to the lobby. The project will also involve a replacement of the lifts used to remove and store seats.

The federal government is providing approximately $1.7 million for the project, with around $1.4 million coming from the province. The remainder of the costs are being covered by the City of Kitchener ($800,000) and Centre in the Square ($360,000).

Raj Saini, MP for Kitchener Centre, Tim Louis, MP for Kitchener-Conestoga; Mike Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga,  Amy Fee, MPP for Kitchener South-Hespeler, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Elizabeth Sproule, chair of Centre in the Square's board of directors, were all present at the announcement, which was made over Zoom Tuesday morning.

The venue is currently shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"This funding will not only assist in repairing and modernizing this 40-plus-year-old facility, but it will also make it more accessible for all of our residents as we work to restore the vibrant arts and culture sector in Kitchener," Vrbanovic said.

Work expected to start this summer

Sproule said the theatre expects work on the upgrades to start in summer 2021.

"We'd like to take advantage as much as possible of the down time, so whatever can be accelerated will be. But again, we're working in a very strange time," she said.

Vrbanovic said the venue will not reopen until the city receives direction from the provincial government.

"It will obviously be dependent on the status of the vaccine and recommendations in terms of how we're doing in terms of getting those [COVID-19] numbers down as the year goes on," he said.

Vrbanovic added that work on the bathroom renovations is expected to go into 2022 due to the need to keep at least some of them open at the theatre.

The city expects that the work will also reduce annual maintenance costs for the building, which receives nearly 150,000 visitors yearly.