CBC P.E.I. to spend $2M on renovations
'We're going to make a serious investment here'
CBC/Radio-Canada Prince Edward Island is getting the renovation of a lifetime, and officials say the $2 million the corporation is spending on the building is good news for the broadcaster's future.
CBC P.E.I.'s building at 430 University Ave. will undergo the renovations over the next year, staff was told last week.
We'll be good for a good, long time when this is done.— Jim Ferguson
"We've been in a building that really was built in 1978 and has had very few investments in the physical property since then, other than paint or carpet," said Jim Ferguson, senior manager for CBC P.E.I.
"Now we're looking at how the business model has changed, and we're going to make a serious investment here."
'Most cost-effective conclusion'
The biggest change will be a more accessible and visible studio for English radio, where CBC's flagship programs Island Morning and Mainstreet are broadcast. The studio is currently enclosed in a brick bunker-like structure in the building's core, with no windows. The new studio will be just inside the front door and will be glassed-in on at least one side, so hosts and guests can see outside.
Tenders will go out in November for the first phase of work, which is scheduled to begin in December. The project should be complete next August. Local companies are invited to bid on the work.
For the last several years, CBC had explored moving out of the University Avenue location, which is too large for the workforce which has gradually diminished to about half what it once was.
But after looking at what other suitable real estate was available, CBC decided the best option was to keep the building and renovate it instead.
"After going out to the market and investigating the opportunities, the decision was made that the most cost-effective conclusion was to upgrade this building," Ferguson said, adding a new building would have cost considerably more than $2 million.
"It has a familiar location for the public, it has very good parking for our staff, it gives us a footprint to work with."
In 2014 CBC launched what the corporation called its 2020 strategy, a five-year plan to transform the organization for the digital age. Part of the strategy was to update local stations. Halifax consolidated its radio and television operations from downtown to a new space in a mall on Chebucto Road in 2014 and Moncton moved to a new station in 2015. Montreal is now building a new Maison de Radio-Canada broadcast centre to open in 2020.
'Not an insignificant amount'
CBC also had to consider investments it has already made in the building such as moving to HD on television and a transmission tower behind the building, Ferguson said.
The $2 million budget is "not an insignificant amount," Ferguson said, explaining CBC held off on making upgrades for several years before making the decision to stay put, so a backlog of funds accumulated.
"We didn't invest in new control room boards that were very aged, and we were working from desks that were old and chairs that were old," he said.
"I've been pushing very hard in the background to say, 'It's time to bring this to where we should be.' And make the commitment to our staff, make the commitment to Islanders that the CBC is here to stay."
The funds are coming from several different areas within CBC including English Services, the real estate division, broadcast engineering and French Services.
Strong audience support for CBC in P.E.I. "is not lost on the CBC," said Ferguson. "They want to make an investment to this community and make sure that everyone knows we're here to stay. We really just need to bring the facility up to the level that we need to be able to function in today's fast-paced, different media world."
Staff being consulted on changes
The renovations will have most employees moving from their existing space to the building's basement in January, for construction of a new newsroom on the main floor.
Staff is not only being consulted but is actively involved in the building's re-design, said Ferguson. He is leading the process, called neighbourhood design.
"It's back to a day when we used to have radio over here and television over there, and then we added in digital in the last few years and all the social stuff that we do," said Ferguson. "And we just kind of bolted them on. And now we don't work like that ... we need all those people to work together."
There will be no change to the television studio for Compass, which was re-designed and upgraded a few years ago.
Work on the exterior, too
Islanders will be invited to come see the renovation when it is complete, Ferguson said.
"We'll be good for a good, long time when this is done," Ferguson said.
There are also upgrades now happening to the building's exterior brickwork and parking lot that are separate from the interior renovation. Staff was told last week that project would cost about half a million dollars.
"That's normal business practice to keep the facility up to standard," Ferguson said.