A dilapidated popcorn machine serves as the only reminder of what was once a bustling movie theatre lobby.
Down the hall, the former Strand Theatre’s big screen and auditorium seats are still intact. However, water damage is evident with the multiple pools and tubs along the wall.
"Probably in the last six to eight months, you can see we’ve lost the integrity of our roof membrane," said Michael Maendel, engineer with Burns Maendel Consulting Engineers. "When water comes into a building, you get more freeze/thaw cycles and more damage. This has been one of the challenges."
The Brandon Sun took a tour through the historic building on Monday, along with Brandon University representatives and Maendel, who conducted the recent structural assessment of the building. It has been determined that restoring the building is "not economically feasible" due to its deterioration.
Another major factor: incompatible materials with today’s building standards.
"It’s not that you can’t do it. You can, but it becomes expensive to reconstruct walls like that. You simply can’t get these materials any more," Maendel said, referring to clay tiles.
The Strand Theatre first opened in 1917 as a silent movie theatre, and was refurbished into a sound-capable theatre in 1930. It closed in 2005 when the multiplex in Brandon’s south end expanded.
The fact that the building sat vacant for more than a decade only accelerated its deterioration.
"Generally, if these buildings stay dry, they do well," Maendel said. "Buildings are designed to be heated. They’re not typically designed to go through the expansion/contraction cycles due to thermal stresses."
In the years since the Strand closed, the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society launched multiple fundraising attempts, with a goal of restoring the space into a performance venue. Some stabilization work was done in 2011, and the lobby was gutted in 2013, to deal with water damage. Unfortunately, those fundraising efforts never seemed to gain traction.
Brandon University purchased the property from Landmark Cinemas in December for $1. It was announced last week that BU plans to pursue a major downtown development on the vacant land along Princess Avenue between Ninth Street and 10th Street. Part of the plan is to demolish the theatre, which also includes three adjacent vacant storefronts.
As reported in the Sun last week, the university hopes to include student residences and senior housing, along with classroom and commercial space.
"Being right across from the skate park, right across from Princess Park, and right beside The Town Centre — from a residential point of view, it couldn’t be better," said Scott Lamont, BU vice-president administration and finance.
One of the next steps will be going through a tender process for demolition of the building. BU plans to consult with faculty, staff and students, as well as the wider community, as the project moves along.
The Brandon Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee has been through the building, Maendel said, and there is "nothing inside the building of any historic significance."
But considering the history of the building, BU plans to pay homage to its past in some way, according to Lamont.
"The difficulty is you don’t really have one or two nice pieces that you can say ‘OK, that’s the thing that everybody would remember,’" Lamont said. "But it might be that you take off some of the brick, and maybe make a feature wall on the inside."
Another possibility is to incorporate the old theatre sign in the new building. The history of the site may be honoured with the exterior design plans as well.
"Not to say you’d make them exactly the same, but colours and features similar to what’s on the street," Lamont said. "So what you build is not something that stands out like a sore thumb."
When it’s all said and done, Lamont said the new development "won’t look like the Strand," but it is important to include some features to help people remember what was there before.
"There’s a hundred years of history in this building," he said. "But … everything has its time."
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