A planned expansion of the Polaris Centre for the Performing Arts will mean increased seating capacity and additional amenities.
A building permit from Rocky View County for the project was approved Aug. 11. The expansion is slated for this fall.
“The building permit allows us to expand our facilities to include an additional bay, which gives us the ability to double our seating capacity for the audience, allows for proper washroom facilities and a small lobby with a bar,” said Carlos Foggin, the venue’s manager. “It allows us to separate the audience experience from the performers.”
Foggin said the centre is currently receiving bid tenders from construction companies and the upgrades could be completed by the end of October.
“It’s really not a complicated build,” he said. “We’ll knock out a wall, build a wall, build some bathrooms and improve our heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It’s been such a long process – we’ve been at this for 18 months.”
Located at 261051 Wagon Wheel View, the Polaris Centre is the home of the Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra (RMSO) and Aurora Dance Academy. Space at the facility is also rented to other community arts organizations. According to polariscentre.ca, the venue includes a 3,500 square-foot theatre with a raised stage, professional sound and lighting, rehearsal and performance spaces, a dance studio and a recording studio.
Like so many other facilities, the Polaris Centre was forced to close in March due to the spread of COVID-19. Despite the closure, the venue’s user groups managed to work within restrictions, said Foggin, who is also the music director of RMSO. In the case of the orchestra, he said individual sections were still able to broadcast performances online from the centre’s stage.
“Without an audience, we’ve still been able to use all the amenities of the facility, but coming out of COVID, it will be nice for people to come back for the live experience,” he said. “We’ve watched enough Netflix, YouTube and things on apps to know that, while the content is there, the experience certainly isn’t.”
While the centre is technically allowed to host reduced-capacity concerts under Stage 2 of Alberta’s economic recovery plan, Foggin said such performances would come with various stipulations and be complicated to plan.
“It’s limited to 100 people indoors, but if we were properly socially distanced, we’d probably be looking at 60 we could handle,” he said. “Then, there’s a whole suite of regulations – we’d have to have people come in by row, wear masks until they’re in their seats and during the show and then exit through different doors.
“Washrooms would probably be open but we’d prefer them not to be. We’d have shorter concerts with no intermissions so that washrooms wouldn’t be available. We can do stuff, but it’s complicated.”
Considering the upgrades to the Polaris Centre will result in an expanded capacity of more than 200 seats, Foggin said he doesn’t expect the facility to be hosting live shows “any time soon.”
“We know we’ll have to socially distance for quite some time, and we know the arts will be the last thing at the end of Stage 3 [to come back],” he said. “We’re almost at Stage 4 before you’d be back in theatres. But when we’re back in theatres, you’ll know the threat has passed.”