For the first time in a decade, the Okanagan School of the Arts (OSA) is considering a future that may not include the Shatford Centre.
The OSA has been operating out of the historic building, located at 760 Main St., since 2011 and its current lease with the Okanagan Skaha School District (SD67) expires in June 2020.
Planning for the move from Leir House Cultural Centre began earlier though, when the school decided not to include the Shatford in their Pen High reconstruction.
Keith MacIntyre, OSA president, said the group hasn’t started formal lease renewal discussions with the school district, but there are already attempts by the school district to scuttle them.
In a letter sent to members of the OSA, MacIntyre outlined a number of alleged incidents by Kevin Lorenz, secretary-treasurer with SD67, including threats to not approve sub-lease agreements and to order repairs the organization can’t currently afford.
“It’s definitely been a challenge, and it’s very strange how we’ve been negotiated with. It’s been road block after roadblock,” said MacIntyre.
“It looks like he’s trying to procedure us out of this building for some unknown reason.”
Lorenz said he and the SD67 board are aware of the letter, but declined to comment because it was not addressed to them.
“The district has not received any renewal proposal from the OSA and I will not be commenting on MacIntyre’s letter,” said Lorenz.
Earlier this year it was revealed that after nearly 60 years of operation, the OSA was suffering financially and came close to ending its operations, but an outpouring of support from the community and additional grant of $47,000 from the City of Penticton helped keep the school running.
In order to keep the arts school afloat, the board decided to rent out some of its space in the Shatford Centre to generate additional revenue, but in order to do that, it needs permission from the school district.
“When we sent the sub-leases to (Lorenz), he said it would take a matter of months to approve. We had businesses lined up to move in and they would have walked away and gone somewhere else. And every month that we don’t have that revenue, that’s money that we desperately need to pay for utilities in the building, which is thousands of dollars a month.”
MacIntyre said they pushed Lorenz to get the sub-leases approved as quickly as possible so the OSA wouldn’t lose any more money. However, he claims their challenges with Lorenz didn’t end there.
“We’ve been paying about $400 or $500 a year on internet. There was a partnership between the school district and us where we worked together. Soon after I became president, I got a contract saying it was going to be $650 per month for all of our internet,” said MacIntyre.
“The IT manager said we were welcome to bring in Telus (as our own internet provider), so I connected with them and got some sponsorship opportunities with Telus … but he denied us having our own internet. And not just for the OSA but for the businesses that are in there.”
When he followed up with Lorenz, MacIntyre said he was told the request was denied because it would “puncture the building envelope.” MacIntyre said he then confirmed with Telus and the electrician that this was not the case and forwarded the response to Lorenz.
“We confirmed that no holes were getting drilled or anything. When I forwarded that to him to ask again, he phoned the electrician and basically tore him a new one,” said MacIntyre.
MacIntyre also alleges that Lorenz has taken actions to cripple the arts school financially, including requesting audited financial statements that cost thousands of dollars and a depreciation report for the building which costs about $10,000.
“That’s something Strata would get for condos, it doesn’t really make sense for a building like this,” said MacIntyre.
“We talked to architects and engineers and asked them to communicate with him directly and I know exactly what it is that we need. But it feels like he’s trying to force us into spending thousands of dollars that he knows that we can’t afford as a non-profit so that we can’t renew our lease.”
Furthermore, MacIntyre alleges Lorenz toured the building and claimed his organization hasn’t been taking care of it as was outlined in their lease.
He added that the OSA has come up with a five-year plan to spend $500,000 to $800,000 to address the repairs that are needed.
“If we lose the building from the community, we’ll never get it back,” said MacIntyre. “I was actually warned about how information flows from the school board office through the trustees, it’s very filtered and agenda-driven. So seeing it firsthand, I can’t even imagine how other entities in the district are being negotiated with if the president of a non-profit art school is being bullied like this.”
The annual general meeting for the OSA is on Nov. 30 at 11 a.m. at the Shatford Centre, and members will be asked to consider the future of the school and whether that should include the centre itself.
“We’ve received nothing but support from the membership to my letter. I’m very humbled and it’s making me feel like we’re on the right track with this,” said MacIntyre.
“People love this building, and historically, the city said it would take care of this building and the OSA was given management of the building and the lease as an organization, but we were never intended to do this entirely on our own. The city made a strong commitment that this building would be for the community and that’s what’s driving me.”
MacIntyre said he would like to see representatives with the City of Penticton partner with the OSA when they submit their proposal for a lease renewal to the school district.
Staff with the city said they are aware of the letter and MacIntyre’s allegations and will be reviewing the available information before commenting.
McIntyre said the OSA welcomes new members and community support, and registration is available online, or at the AGM.
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