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Cawthra Park renos ‘down to the wire’ for WorldPride

A contingency plan’s in place for Queer Family Pride, but 519 is optimistic for AIDS Vigil

Cawthra Park’s $1.6-million facelift has been set back by the long winter and may not be finished before The 519’s Pride festivities are scheduled to begin. Credit: Rob Salerno

Despite initial promises that construction would be finished well before Pride festivities begin, the long renovation project that has closed Cawthra Square Park since last August is well behind schedule and may not be complete before WorldPride begins.

The 519’s Green Space is one of the most popular Pride venues, and the parties there and at the Ryerson University quad welcomed 35,000 partiers and raked in $300,000 for the community centre in 2013.

The project, which has ballooned from an initially proposed $500,000 budget to a reported $1.45-million project when construction began to its current $1.6-million budget allotment, has fallen behind schedule because of the unusually harsh and long winter but is still on budget, according to city staff.

“I understand we’re going down to the wire on this. The 519 has their first event on the 17th of June. Our schedule puts us to be done right about that time,” project manager Dave Nosella says. “What we can’t say with certainty is will we get decent weather [for the next two weeks].”

Staff are considering paying the contractor extra to work overtime to get the renovation substantially complete before June 15, which would give the city two days before the first scheduled Pride event in the park — The 519’s Queer Family Pride. The additional money would come out of the project’s contingency fund.

“We’re not going to risk it. If we need to spend a bit of money for [the contractor] to work longer, we’ll do it. It will come in under budget,” Nosella says.

Still remaining to be completed is installation of new dynamic LED lighting, gardening, reconstruction of the sidewalk in front of The 519, carpentry work, adjusting the irrigation system and installing furniture like wastebaskets and benches. Staff are considering putting off some of these elements until after Pride in order to have the park cleared for festivities.

Also to be completed is a new mural on the north wall of The 519. The mural project is not part of the city’s project.

Despite construction having slipped from an original “mid-May” completion deadline to “end of May” and finally “June 15,” The 519 is not worried that the project will affect their Pride festivities. If necessary, The 519 will move Queer Family Pride into the open areas of the park — the splash pad and playground. There is no contingency plan for the AIDS Vigil on June 24 or for the Green Space parties, which take place from June 26 to 29. A Nuit Rose event is also scheduled for June 21, but The 519 is not organizing it.

“We’re confident that the city’s going to deliver a venue for the events at least beginning with the vigil on the 24th,” says Matthew Cutler, director of strategic partnership initiatives at The 519.

Although the park is still a construction site, Cutler says 519 staff have been able to enter the site to get a feel for how it will function with its new layout. But organizers still need to understand how the park’s new lighting and electrical systems will work.

“Our electrician and AV team haven’t been able to get into the venue, but those are things we’ll be able to troubleshoot quickly in a couple of days,” Cutler says.