Gleaner Misleads Readers on Playhouse, Should Take a Stand Based on Facts

Gleaner Misleads Readers on Playhouse, Should Take a Stand Based on Facts

People who read the Daily Gleaner and have been following the issue of the Playhouse needing to be replaced would have seen last Tuesday’s editorial against a new performing arts centre, instead endorsing simply repairing the Playhouse. And they would have seen the response to that in a weekend op-ed by Playhouse Board Vice-President Greg MacFarlane. If you aren’t familiar with either piece, I can’t reference the editorial because it is behind a “paywall” for non-subscribers, but MacFarlane’s response is copied on the website BuildThePlayhouse2, which you can access here.

 Daily Gleaner Editorial, Nov. 20, 2018

Daily Gleaner Editorial, Nov. 20, 2018

The response is well worth reading as it explains in detail why simply repairing the Playhouse would be an incredibly irresponsible use of money. In fact it explains that repair was the first option the Playhouse Board considered, but when they got advice from structural engineers and other people with expertise in this sort of thing, it became crystal clear that the estimated $12 Million dollar costs could balloon to unknown amounts because it wouldn’t be until they got into the work that they would discover other issues that could require costly attention. The problems stem back to how it was built back in the 1960’s. And on top of that, any repair or renovation would necessitate, by law, bringing it up to present day fire code. And that would mean losing 35% of the seats, which would severely limit the kinds of shows it could attract. 

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It’s like if you had an old car that needed a major repair like a motor or transmission. And you took it to the top mechanics and they all said, “yes, we can fix it, but given the shape of the vehicle, you’d be wasting your money.” Would you do it anyway? Most of us would probably take that advice.  

So it is hard to fathom why the Daily Gleaner editorial says repair it anyway, despite all the expert advice that that is not practical, smart, or a responsible use of money. 

I doubt the newspaper was endorsing being financially irresponsible. I suspect the writer simply lacked accurate information. An editorial that is based on bad information will, by default, come to a misguided conclusion.

It is unfortunate the Gleaner didn’t do its due diligence to the extent the Playhouse Board did. There is no question that journalistically it has failed its readers in this case. But look, it happens. The responsible thing now would be for the Gleaner to do its own due diligence and then take a stand. If, after it learns the facts, the paper believes the city can do without a Performing Arts Centre, then it should say so.

 Photo Credit: Downtown Fredericton Inc.

Photo Credit: Downtown Fredericton Inc.

But it shouldn’t stick with its position that the problems with the Playhouse could be easily fixed with a $12 million renovation. That’s simply not true, and if the writer didn’t know it when he wrote his editorial, he certainly should know it now. 

We would hope that on learning the facts, our city’s community newspaper will change its position, and help champion this project rather than argue against it.

The fact is, the Playhouse is coming to a time when it will have to shut its doors. We don’t know exactly when, but all signals suggest it will be sooner as opposed to later. It is now on borrowed time. What happens then? There is no Plan B. We either build a new one, or do without. 

 Photo credit: flickr.com

Photo credit: flickr.com

City Council has unanimously endorsed it, and the city’s arts and business sectors support it. All understand it is a project with inherent economic and social benefits, a project adding to a quality of life that will benefit both city and non-city residents, as well as help attract businesses and professionals including doctors to move here. And through its Friends of the Playhouse and other programs, it is able to expose underprivileged kids to the performing arts, something they might not otherwise ever experience. And who knows what that inspiration can lead to in their lives.

The city would be all the poorer, in many ways, if we lose our Playhouse with no replacement. As the great Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell so astutely observed: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” 

Having our local paper support this, rather than fight it would be a good community service, don’t you think?   

Now, in the interests of full transparency, readers should know that I am on the board of the Playhouse. It doesn’t by any stretch mean that I speak for the board, but it is because I am on it that I am well aware of the situation.

Thanks for reading. If you are a supporter of a new Playhouse, it is time to stand up and say so. Share this blog. Write a letter to the Editor. Contact your elected representative. Make a noise on social media. We know we have a large community behind us, but it’s not active enough. If this effort fails, it will be because its supporters were silent.

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