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Penticton council grants funding for operations, utilities to Okanagan School of the Arts

The organization is facing financial difficulties amidst “reinventing its mission”
On March 19, Penticton city council granted $47,000 to the Okanagan School of the Arts for operational costs and to waive the building’s utility fees until the end of September 2019. The organization is facing financial difficulties and its fate will be decided at the special meeting on March 21. Mark Brett - Western News

The City of Penticton has decided to help keep the Okanagan School of the Arts afloat.

Council heard a presentation from OSA board president Robin Robertson during the committee of the whole on March 19. The OSA had been attempting to “reinvent its mission” and “revitalize the organization” when it was announced at the end of February that due to a lack of working capital, the school would be ceasing operations on March 31.

“We’re like a startup, the runway isn’t long enough and we haven’t been able to make it to where we need to be,” said Robinson.

The OSA asked council for $35,000 in operational funding to “help us get through to the end of our fiscal year”, an additional $85,000 for “critical upgrades that would allow us to actually attract some tenants” and to waive the Shatford Centre’s utility bills until the end of September 2018, which currently cost the society approximately $2,000 per month.

City council voted unanimously to grant the OSA $47,000 to waive the utility fees until September and address the needed operational costs, on the condition that a report be provided back to staff including the organization’s business plan. Following this, the organization could then make a request for the additional $85,000 needed for building upgrades.

Robertson said the intiative to bring the organization “up to date” began following its November 2018 open house, where they heard from members and the public about how the organization could best serve the community.

READ ALSO: Penticton’s Okanagan School of the Arts wrapping up operations

“We’ve been pursuing a new mission for the Okanagan School of the Arts and the Shatford Centre. We want to revitalize the organization and bring it into the current day. We want to create a social enterprise that supports arts, culture, innovation, non-profits, emerging entrepreneurs – we want to transform it into a hub that is buzzing with energy and has visible activity everywhere,” said Robertson. “We want to co-locate artists, developers, makers and retail in the building and we want to encourage tenants to interact so that they come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems in Penticton.”

She said members of the organization “visited a few places across Canada that are doing this kind of thing and are very successful.” She said the previous model the organization utilized was based on “previous, one-off events that was not sustainable from a staff energy and volunteer perspective.”

“It will involve better utilization of the building, including securing anchor tenants that will sustain us in terms of revenue. And actively marketing those activities. It will involve a thematic design for the floor and space in a way that we can attract tenants,” said Robertson. “And it will very much include upgrades to the building.”

Unfortunately, the OSA ran into “big barriers” while trying to revamp according to Robertson, resulting in its current financial crisis and uncertain future. She said the society is “up against a wall when it comes to money.”

“The first barrier is our historic building, which is our draw and also our big problem; 100-years-old and lots of upgrades required. The second barrier, and the reason we’re here (before council) combined with the first barrier is we ran out of cash,” said Robertson. “We’re like a startup, the runway isn’t long enough and we haven’t been able to make it where we need to be.”

READ ALSO: Okanagan School of the Arts may cease operations

The city’s CAO Donny van Dyk said that following meetings with the OSA board, city staff feel confident that the organization has a “strong executive and board with good management” and that “their eyes are wide open” about their current situation. Robertson said since the letter was sent out to membership, the organization has been hard at work to secure partnerships and funding with other groups in the community.

“We’ve been pursuing partnerships, we have a good management team in place. We have social enterprise coaches working with us, we received funding through the United Way, so it’s not like we’re not doing what we need to do,” said Robertson. “We just really are in a challenge in terms of our cash and what we can do in the building to attract people.”

Coun. Jake Kimberley had Robertson clarify that the first upgrade to the building will be addressing temperature concerns. She said it would cost approximately $10,000 repairing the boilers as well as electrical upgrades and addressing safety issues.

Historically, the city provides the OSA $10,000 annually but the city held off on funding a $42,000 grant to the organization during budget discussions in light of the news of that the OSA may be ceasing operations. van Dyk did note that the OSA’s lease with the Shatford Centre will be ending within a year but Robertson said the organization had “little concerns” about renewing it.

Members on council expressed the importance of keeping the OSA running within Penticton, but were hesitant to cut a cheque without having a clear picture of the organization’s business plan and next steps.

“They need to know that their plan is feasible. We need some costing to know exactly what’s involved in bringing the building back into serviceable use,” said Coun. Julius Bloomfield. “We can write a cheque for $120,000 but what comes after that? They referred to the fact that they’ve run out of runway, well how much more runway do they need?

“Without the business plan, I don’t think we know how much more runway they need. And we just can’t keep adding to that runway in piece meal, we need to know how long that runway needs to be for the plane to take off.”

OSA members have been called to a special meeting on March 21 at the centre to receive an update from the board and decide the organization’s fate.

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