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New facilities board means Mt. Tabor won’t need another fight to stay alive

A new municipal agreement means the Mount Tabor Playhouse won’t be fighting for its existence for a third time since municipal amalgamation.

Council has approved the creation of a South Marysburgh Facilities Association board to manage the operation of community buildings in Milford.

Most important will be the installation of a sprinkler system at Mount Tabor Playhouse – at an estimated cost between $50,000 to $100,000 to be shared between the County and the Mummers.

“Without this sprinkler system, the playhouse would become virtually unusable for live performances,” stated long-term Milford volunteer Bruce Dowdell in a deputation to council. “I thank councillor John Hirsch for bringing about this partnership agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding with the Milford Fair Board.”

Over decades past, the community has found creative ways to save the playhouse and make it profitable.

Dowdell presented some interesting history in his deputation.

While purchased in 1967, it sat empty until 1985 except for the night of the Milford Fair when it was used for a variety show.

“The rest of the time it was home to many racoons,” said Dowdell. “In the fall of 1984, six township women got together and decided some entertainment was needed to chase away the February blahs and also make use of the church. With the help of their husbands and other community members, and a loan of $100 from the Friendship Circle, the play “Look Who’s Laughing” was performed in February 1985 and the Marysburgh Mummers were born – and the $100 loan was repaid.”

Repairs and alterations to create a theatre were ongoing. “The main problem with a March production was the only washrooms were two outhouses behind the old Sunday School room behind the church. It was a chilly intermission,” laughed Dowdell, adding a Flush Fund was successful to raise funds for indoor plumbing.

In 2000, a newly amalgamated council considered selling Mt. Tabor and the community quickly rallied to show how it was an asset, not a liability and not only raised funds at “Taboraid”, but convinced councillors in attendance of its value.

Ten years later, “Taborfix” came to the rescue to have the front steps rebuilt to code and the County paid for a smoke detector system. Musicians banded together in 2011 to raise funds for fire retardant curtains, seating, lighting and other items related to fire codes.

“And here we are about 10 years later with much the same problems. The community and especially the Mummers have grown from being mainly South Marysburgh residents to include all parts of the County as well as Trenton, Belleville and Stirling. Over the past 38 years we have gone from this, to this.”

Monica Alyea also spoke to the magic of the Marysburgh Mummers over the decades. In the past 25 years the Mummers have produced about 66 shows and 18 summer drama camps. She noted it is estimated some 12,000 people have been involved at the theatre producing shows seen by more than 50,000 patrons.

Young Marysburgh Mummers delighted their audiences at Mt. Tabor Playhouse presenting Canada: A Musical, Eh? – the culmination of drama camp activities in 2017 for the 23-member troupe.

She also asked council to put the playhouse on the municipal “assets” list and to “invest in heritage properties and encourage creative activation of heritage and cultural spaces to ensure they are desired spaces for community use.”

“It is not the Regent Theatre – not physically and not in its programming. There have been assumptions. There has been confusion. And truthfully, a great deal of frustration on our end as users of the space. This is the third time sinced amalgamation where we have felt we had to defend what we do. But you get to fix some of that tonight with the memoradums of agreement for the Milford Fair and the South Marysburgh Facilities Association.”

Mt. Tabor Playhouse over the years has also been the location for community members to gather. In this 2015 photograph, a few hundred participants circled the building in a ‘Too Big, Too Close, Too Many Rally’ citing Prince Edward County is the wrong location for industrial wind turbines.

Since 2014, the Mount Tabor Playhouse, Bredin Hall, the Shed, Food Booth and Milford Town Hall were managed through a bylaw under the ward recreation board. The County handled capital projects and provided additional support when needed.

“The two-year project evaluation was determined to be successful at reducing operating costs for the County and improving bookings for the space,” said Lisa Lindsay, director of recreation and community facilities, in her report to council, noting further approvals to operate which expired in 2022.

Terms of reference for the community group to manage daily activity and facility operation will come forward to council. The municipality would be responsible for maintenance, monthly building inspections, water quality compliance and ensuring building and fire code compliances.

A preliminary review of the facilities found no upgrades were required for the town hall but issues were raised with the Shed Brendin Hall and the Mount Tabor Playhouse.

Engineers from Green Galloway Consulting provided a $15,000 detailed analysis of work required for the buildings to be up to code.

Minimal upgrades could be put in place for the Shed to function as an ‘Assembly Occupancy’ limit of 100 people. The County would install crash bars on the south double doors and arrange for locking the sliding door open at all times when the building is occupied.

There were significant compliance concerns at Mount Tabor Playhouse and Bredin Hall.

Lindsay’s report notes the municipality rectified fire and electrical non-compliance at a cost of $3,500.

“However, a significant fire code deficiency was reported with the fire separation between the stage and seating area. An Order to Comply from the Chief Building Official was issued Aug. 15. To address this in the short term, there is no occupancy permitted in the balcony (will remain until a more significant structure change can be made) and a fire watch has been established – which means trained volunteers present for all public performances.

An unframed fire curtain, or a sprinkler system would address the non-compliance with preference being given to the sprinkler system – estimated to cost between $50,000 and $100,000 depending on the design options for the building and property.

Community members interested in becoming the South Marysburgh Facilities Association board have agreed to use existing funds raised by the Mummers and currently held by the municipality bank account to support up to half of the costs of the sprinkler system.

Council has reviewed arrangements with various community groups that manage, operate or regularly use municipal facilities.

The intention was to explore ways to engage community groups and give sufficient autonomy to carry out functions and ensure facilities are operated and maintained.

Formalizing the types of relationships with groups falls along a “spectrum of legal enforceability” for formal statements of mutual understanding and commitment such as in a Memorandum of Understanding, to agreement with groups having legal status (including lease agreements and service contracts).

“In some cases, relationships with community groups are best st out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),” states Lindsay, “as these arrangements do not affect property rights, nor are they intended to create legally binding obligations. An MOU can also be effective when the community group does not have formal legal status.”

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