The reconstruction of the Théâtre de la Vieille Forge in Petite-Vallée, in Gaspésie, was to begin this summer. Today, the project is paralyzed.
Since a fire tore through the theater in 2017, Village en chanson Executive and Artistic Director Alan Côté has gone through all the necessary steps to obtain funding from both levels of government, in addition to leading a private campaign to raise funds.
Once the functional and technical plan was completed, the project was valued at 14 million. But as of May 2022, there was an overrun of $2.9 million, Alan Côté tells us.
Over the past year, the gap has continued to widen. The scarcity of specialized labor in the region and the cost of materials are the main cause, believes Mr. Côté, who also mentions the rise in interest rates. “They were 3.7% at the start of the project, 5% when the concept was submitted and 8.7% at the time of the call for tenders,” he specifies.
The call for tenders ended at the end of last May. The lowest bidder exceeded the forecast by 1 million and the second by 5 million! Today, the reconstruction of the theater is valued at 19.6 million, or 5.6 million more than the initial amount.
“It’s going to cost us 1.6 million in interest over two years while we build it… It freaks me out.” »
The Ministry of Culture and Communications, which was to inject nearly 10 million in this project, indicated that “the analyzes continued between the organization and the Ministry”. “I’m in contact with them,” the festival’s general manager tells us. No one is surprised, we are reassuring, but nothing concrete has been offered to me…”
On the side of Canadian Heritage, no concrete commitment at this stage either. “We have been there to support our artists and we will continue to be there,” Minister Pablo Rodriguez simply reacted.
The Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) has also embarked on major expansion work in 2021. Initially estimated at 20.2 million, the cost has jumped over the past year. The Ministry of Culture and Communications announced additional aid of $6 million (for a total contribution of $17.9 million) last summer – following the fire that delayed the work.
The overall cost of the project is now estimated at 31.5 million. The inauguration of the new spaces of the TNM, which was planned for this year, is now announced for 2024.
Other real estate projects have been postponed, but are still active. Whether it’s Phi Contemporain, whose work planned for the fall – estimated at 100 million for the moment – will only start next spring (given the complexity of the project, we are told), or the famous Blue Spaces. Four of them are in progress (three are overrun), but the other fourteen? The Ministry replied that “the pace of network deployment is being reviewed based on the current economic context”.
This increase in construction costs obviously adds pressure to both levels of government, which have planned major new projects in their schedules over the next five years.
Among them are the expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the construction of a new Holocaust museum, the expansion of the Les Gros Becs theatre, the construction of the Riopelle wing at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, the development of the Maison de la chanson et de la musique in the former Saint-Sulpice library, the relocation of the Maison Théâtre… who could say better?
How does the government intend to finance all these building projects, the costs of which may exceed those initially planned?
At Canadian Heritage, we are encouraging. “The Department, through the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, will allocate funding to address rising project costs and cost overruns that occur in funded arts and cultural infrastructure projects. This support will help arts and heritage organizations that are experiencing significant inflationary pressures in addition to the challenges associated with the pandemic. »
On the Quebec side, no promise of special funds, but a desire to continue to support the cultural community.
“Construction costs have skyrocketed all over the world. Our commitment to partners will not diminish, however, said Minister Mathieu Lacombe in a written communication sent to La Presse. It is certain that we will continue to look at the projects that will come our way. I also want to salute the work of all the institutions that are working hard to reconsider their project, to try to find ways to reduce costs. »
Canadian Heritage also mentions the work being done in collaboration with the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications. “Meetings are taking place between [Canadian Heritage] and the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications to discuss issues related to arts and culture including cultural infrastructure and cost overruns that occur in development projects. artistic and cultural infrastructure funded. »
“The proof that our government is listening,” added Minister Lacombe, “is that for eight months, for each of the projects presented to me, we have found solutions. I am thinking of the venue specializing in theater and dance for children and young people in Sherbrooke, the MAC which has finally been released, the expansion project for the TNM in Montreal, the expansion of the Théâtre du Bic in the region of Rimouski, the maritime museum of Charlevoix, etc. »
“There is also a principle to respect, indicates the professor of HEC Montreal, it is that one cannot build a building which will create the bankruptcy of the organization to which one comes to help. Governments must take this into account and organizations with very small operating budgets must be wise enough to withdraw from certain projects that are beyond their capacity to manage, especially in an inflationary environment. »
Regardless of the current inflationary and post-pandemic context, cost overruns in the construction of cultural buildings are nothing new, believes André Courchesne. “There’s a scarcity factor,” he tells us. The fact that they are all specific, whether they are unique models, leads to additional costs. »
The cultural management specialist gives a few examples. The Maison symphonique cost 266 million instead of the 100 million forecast in 2011. The Lassonde pavilion at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec cost 103 million instead of 90 million, the Diamond, 60 million instead of 47… And if we go back to 1963, the Place des Arts cost 25 million instead of the 12 million planned, the equivalent of 127 million overrun, taking inflation into account.
Looking more closely, Professor Courchesne found that the most significant overruns concerned public or parapublic buildings. “When a project is managed by the board of directors of a non-profit organization, such as Le Diamant, in Quebec, the directors are perhaps more vigilant because it is the very survival of the organization that is in play. “
According to the 2023-2024 Annual Public Infrastructure Investment Management Plans, the asset maintenance deficit (AMD) for cultural infrastructure has gone from $108.4 million to $261.7 million in one year! We are talking about museums, libraries, heritage buildings (in particular those of SODEC) or venues such as the halls of Place des Arts and the Grand Théâtre de Québec. A situation attributable to “the natural deterioration observed on certain buildings”, but also “to the overheating of the construction market”, which forced the government to revise the costs upwards of work that had to be postponed, can we read in the document published by the Treasury Board. At the Grand Théâtre de Québec, for example, we are talking about bringing the ventilation system, fire sprinklers and elevators up to standard. In addition, we note that 30% of specialized equipment in venues is in poor condition (D), and 6% in very poor condition (E).
The transformation of the former Saint-Sulpice Library into a House of Song and Music was announced in the summer of 2022. The approximately 50 million project, set in motion by host Monique Giroux and lyricist Luc Plamondon , is led by the Société québécoise des Infrastructures (SQI). According to Monique Giroux, the project is progressing. “We are at the functional and technical plan stage, so it is progressing well. The call for tenders will be made in the fall with the aim of starting work in 2024. If all goes well, the Maison de la Chanson et de la Musique will open three years later, in 2027.
Construction of a new roof to house the Phi Foundation at the intersection of Saint-Paul and Bonsecours streets in Old Montreal was scheduled to begin this year. The complexity of the project forced the designers to postpone the start of work until next spring. The Berlin-Quebec consortium (Kuehn Malvezz Pelletier de Fontenay) will be responsible for the architectural design of Phi Contemporain. A project estimated at 100 million – for the moment – which should benefit from an aid of 26.6 million from the two levels of government (13.3 million each), the balance being assumed by the founder of Phi, Pheobe Greenberg. Phi Contemporary is expected to open in 2027.
The only youth theater presenter in Montreal is at an impasse. Its building belongs to the Cégep du Vieux Montréal, which would like to recover it. For years, the two partners have been toying with the project of building a second room that they could share. But this project never came to fruition. In this context, the general manager of the Maison Théâtre, Isabelle Boisclair, confirmed to us that she had identified a new location in the Latin Quarter, which could house the theatre. For its part, the Ministry has undertaken to “accompany the Maison Théâtre in its relocation project”. But no timetable or budget has yet been announced.