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Burnaby reveals designs for giant new $55M theatre project

The James Cowan Theatre redevelopment is scheduled to begin this year.

Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre is getting a new theatre, which will mean demolishing part of the city’s main performing arts facility.

The James Cowan Theatre at the Shadbolt needs “significant upgrades,” as the theatre is past its useful service life and is not wheelchair accessible, according to a staff report to the financial management committee.

The facility at 6450 Deer Lake Ave. was built as a gym in the 1940s and converted into a theatre in 1995.

The new theatre will have 365 seats, 85 more than the current 280 seats.

Rendering for the new James Cowan Theatre at Burnaby's Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. City of Burnaby

The city has set aside $55 million for the project in its 2024 financial plan.

The facility won’t include a fly-tower or underground parking, though those options were considered early in the planning process.

Staff will seek council approval to proceed with a design-build contract later this month.

Shadbolt staff will relocate to Mathers House, a city-owned heritage mansion beside the Shadbolt, during construction in 2024, according to the report.

Construction on the theatre is expected begin in the second quarter of this year and finished in the fourth quarter of 2026.

The facility is expected to be open to the public in the first quarter of 2027.

Trees to be cut down

James Lota, the city’s general manager of lands and facilities, has also alerted the city that the redevelopment will involve cutting down 11 trees because “the only possible construction access to the site is from the north of the building.”

The new theatre’s proposed footprint is only slightly larger than the existing facility, and “does not impact the existing site significantly,” Lota said in a memo.

Staff have developed a tree management plan for the four large Lombardi poplars, four medium-sized cedars and two small magnolia trees – most will be replanted on a 3:1 ratio, with “a select few” replanted on a 2:1 ratio.

It has yet to be determined where the 28 new trees will be planted, Lota said.

The 11 trees to the north of the Shadbolt Centre that are slated to be cut down due to construction on the James Cowan Theatre redevelopment. City of Burnaby

Project beginnings

At a closed council meeting in July 2022, council directed staff to prepare a project concept design for a flexible theatre with art studios, a café and production offices building.

The estimated project cost was between $40 million and $45 million, including contingencies, according to a contract award report in January 2023.

A call for proposals in fall 2022 asked builders to develop a plan for a facility with a flat floor, retractable seating and balcony/mezzanine, dressing rooms, art studios, café and prep area, front of house box office, universal washrooms, maintenance rooms, storage and production offices.

The call said the project scope would include demolition of the existing James Cowan Theatre wing, while ensuring that the attached Shadbolt Centre facility remains untouched and operational.