Performing Arts Centre design process will focus on community input and collaboration

by Greg MacFarlane

The following commentary was originally published in the Daily Gleaner on July 11, 2018. We have also made it available in French.

 Greg MacFarlane. Photo  credit .

Greg MacFarlane. Photo credit.

Last month, the board of directors of the Fredericton Playhouse and Fredericton City Council approved the selection process for the new performing arts centre’s design team – an important step forward for this community infrastructure project. We’re ready to tackle this next stage in developing a new performing arts centre, but we will need the help of the community.

The design stage is lengthy, but we can’t rush this work. We need to get it right.

This project is a generational one. The decisions we make today define the future of the performing arts landscape in Fredericton, the development of our downtown and the quality of life in our region. We can’t take this responsibility lightly. The Playhouse is where we come together to connect around the unique experience of live performance and the physical design of its replacement is integral to this experience. Community input and collaboration are essential as we move forward.

The design stage of the project is comprised of four phases over 18 months: preparation and assignment of roles (approximately four weeks); solicitation, evaluation and selection (approximately 25 weeks); contract award (approximately four weeks); and the design process itself (approximately 50 weeks).

In the first phase, we will gather the people who will oversee the process and conduct the evaluation of proposals. To this end, a committee will be appointed with diverse perspectives and expertise. The committee will include City officials, Playhouse board members and staff, a procurement specialist, professional architect, professional engineer/construction project manager and a professional planner. Some committee members will be involved in process oversight, while others will be directly involved in the evaluation of submissions.

Working with the City’s purchasing division, we will begin phase two by publicly advertising a request for expressions of interest. Teams of architects and relevant sub-consultants will respond and be shortlisted by the committee.

After a second evaluation, including interviews and site visits, no more than three shortlisted teams will be selected to produce design concepts to demonstrate their approach to designing Fredericton’s new performing arts centre. One of these teams will be selected by the committee and presented to the Playhouse board and City Council for their consideration.

Eventually, in phase three, Fredericton City Council will approve the expenditure for design services and the selected design team will be awarded the contract at negotiated rates. The approved hard construction budget of $33 million will continue to be used as a guide in developing the new building’s design.

Then the real work begins. The successful team will begin designing the new performing arts centre in phase four and community participation will be crucial throughout this process. The design stage is lengthy, but we can’t rush this work. We need to get it right. We will require that our design team use the principles of public engagement and work with local stakeholders to design the best facility for our community, within the site and budget parameters identified. This will no doubt be an exciting year-long process and we are eager to begin having those important community conversations about how the new performing arts centre will look and work.

Thank you to our City Councilors and to Mayor Mike O’Brien for their continued vision and support throughout this process. Now that we’ve received the approval of council for the design procurement plan, we believe we’ll be able to move the project forward very quickly once the required funding for design is in place. Our attention is now focused squarely on the participation of the provincial and federal governments as partners in funding the project – both in the short term to fund the design and the long-term to build the new facility.

Greg MacFarlane is the vice-president of Fredericton Playhouse Inc.’s Board of Directors.