On July19th, 2002 the Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre burned to the ground. In just over 15 hours, portions of our 75 year history were destroyed forever.
The Board of Directors, who had spent their last Board meeting working out details for new landscaping in the front yard now found themselves in a world filled with insurance claims, lawyers and partnerships; in charge of a project to rebuild the Little Theatre.
The view of the Board was that this was an opportunity; a chance to rebuild the Little Theatre for the next 75 years.The first year of the rebuild effort was spent exploring possibilities:
Did we want to rebuild on the existing land?
Did we want to move into a new home elsewhere in the city?
One of the more promising opportunities during this first year was a proposed joint effort with The Princess Cinema and their plans to expand into a new building on King St. The proposal was for us sell our land to them and they would build the new Little Theatre as an extension of their building, with lots of inherent opportunities for cross-promotion. The Board entered into negotiations but these eventually fell through. The cost of giving up our land and leasing it back from them was simply too high. (Estimates had us needing to raise an additional $10,000 each year, just to break even!) This cost would continue to grow over the course of our lease; the length of which was also in question. So, after much deliberation, the Little Theatre and The Princess Cinema amicably parted ways and we turned our attention once again towards the ultimate question:
Should we stay or should we go?
Months were spent scoping out potential sites for the Little Theatre,with some more promising than others. All were eventually abandoned due to the same factor: lack of funding. Insurance money plus the sale of the land would still leave us hundreds of thousands of dollars short to purchase a new location and renovate it into a new Little Theatre.
Around this time, the City of Waterloo extended an olive branch to us: increased grants with the promise of rebuilding on the existing site. This kind act allowed the already strong relationship between the City of Waterloo and the Little Theatre to flourish and one year after the fire that had destroyed our home, the Board announced at our Annual General Meeting the final decision to rebuild on our existing site!
Initial plans for the ‘new’ Little Theatre included a three-story building, while others featured a basement beneath the front portion of the building. The myriad concept designs were wonderful but all lacked a common element: affordability.
With the insurance money we could theoretically afford to build a one story structure on the existing footprint. However, the Board recognized the challenge of moving back into a space smaller than the original and also wanted to make sure that the design chosen for the site was forward thinking enough to allow future Boards to expand on the structure.
Two important elements of the design chosen for the new building will allow this:
First, the front wall of the building will have a steel frame secured with steel joists, while the side walls will be concrete. This front wall will also be detachable, meaning that we will have the ability to build a forward-facing addition to the Theatre when the funds become available.
Secondly, while we currently can’t afford to build a second floor, we do have enough to give the Theatre a special kind of ceiling; a ready-made floor of a future second story. Money could have been saved by installing a basic ceiling but this extra expense now will allow us to eventually expand upward, without incurring the additional cost of converting the roof into a floor.
Basically, the third phase will involve raising the roof, adding walls and Voila!
The initial estimates had us moving back into our building in Sept '04 but the Board simply wasn't ready for the jungle of red tape and hoops which needed to be traversed in order to get the project off the ground. After a painstaking summer, the last of the ‘i’s were dotted and all of the pieces finally fell into place, so that on Sept 6th, 2004 KWLT received its much sought after building permit.
Between September of 2004 and June of 2009 there were a number of starts and stops; set backs and successes as we worked to complete the building. Thanks to the hard work of a huge number of volunteers and the generosity of a myriad of supporters we received our occupancy permit, and officially opened the building on Thursday July 9th. There are still many tasks to make our theatre even better: bits of decorating and tech refinements.
We've worked hard to get to this point but we know we couldn't have made it without the support of our community.