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519 Centre pushes back opening date

Project budget doubles since 2002 announcement

Five years into its multimillion-dollar expansion campaign, the 519 Community Centre won’t meet its deadline for its grand opening.

The plan for a May 19 celebration, a numerological play on the address 519, has been deemed unrealistic.

“I can’t promise anybody anything yet,” says 519 executive director Alison Kemper.

The road to the expansion and renovation of The 519 has been bumpy and winding indeed — construction issues, bureaucratic delays, frustration mounting among users of the centre — but Kemper says the end product — 25,000 square feet of new and renovated space — will be worth all the pain.

“My impression is that it far exceeds everybody’s dreams,” she says. “It’s just a gorgeous piece of architecture and we had no idea that was going to be possible.”

Kemper says they want to be finished before Pride Week (Mon, Jun 19 to Sun, Jun 25) and hopes to have a celebration before Fri, Jun 16. Given the city’s large financial involvement in the project, Kemper says they must work around Mayor David Miller’s availability for the grand opening.

Regardless of when the grand opening is held, The 519 is still years from completion. The new addition looks mostly finished from the outside, but it’s only phase one of the project. Phase two involves knocking down walls between the old and new building, putting partitions and fittings in the new space, and then renovating the old building.

Kemper says the fundraising campaign to pay for the renos is very close to its $6-million goal, which includes the $1.5-million starter funds from the city, as well as approximately $1.3 million that will have been raised by the city through levies collected from neighbourhood condo developers.

When the project was announced in 2002, the goal was $3 million, but the budget has since doubled to $6 million.

Donations from corporations, including large amounts from Labatt Breweries, Rogers Communications, Lanterra and H&R Developments, make up most of the difference. Donations from individuals, led by the $750,000 donated by the chair of the capital campaign Salah Bachir, has also made a big difference.

Kemper says the ongoing construction delays have been frustrating, but shrugs them off.

“Frustrated and $2.50 will buy you a cup of coffee,” she says. “Everybody’s has had to adjust. We want our space. There was so many people wanting to use the community centre, the other day that we nearly had yoga groups rioting.”

The building of the extension is the least intrusive part of the overall plan. In phase two, staff volunteers and the many groups who use the building will have to move from room to room in order to accommodate the various renovations on various floors and wings.

Kemper says The 519 has been a work in progress for almost 10 years.

“My hunch is that while the major construction is going to be done in the next couple of years, people’s imagination and aspirations won’t be,” she says. “They’ll keep doing stuff that’s useful and exciting for the community.”