With violence and drug abuse on its doorstep, the fence goes up to Alix Goolden Hall

“We need to protect our building and make sure that anyone wishing to come to the conservatory can enter safely.”

Security fences will be installed outside the Alix Goolden performance hall today, as operators of the Victoria Conservatory of Music move to respond to security concerns around their flagship venue.

The 800-seat venue – which hosts classical concerts by conservatory students and touring artists – opens onto Pandora Avenue just steps from Our Place Society, which serves the city’s vulnerable population.

The entrance was closed to the public for months due to increased drug and alcohol use and violence in the area.

“[The fence] is for the safety and protection of our building, ”said Jane Butler McGregor, CEO of the Victoria Conservatory of Music. “Unfortunately, the vulnerable population is using all of our measures and all kinds of withdrawals. We need to protect our building and make sure that anyone wishing to come to the conservatory can enter safely. “

The school, which also offers music therapy and early childhood music classes, is currently accessible through an entrance on Johnson Street.

Small performances have taken place in the hall in recent weeks, now that theaters are allowed to host concerts at full capacity, but fire regulations prohibit large events unless entrances and exits are open .

Despite the new fence, Butler McGregor said she will need to see improvements in the situation on Pandora Avenue before the conservatory fully takes over the venue. “Until we are satisfied that it is safe for people to enter and exit our building, we will continue to use Johnson Street as our main entrance.”

The conservatory had a temporary fence for a period before it reopened to the public in September, “but at that point we decided to take it down, to have a more welcoming appearance,” she said. The new fence will have temporary gates that will open onto Pandora Avenue and Quadra Street, she said.

Our Place CEO Julian Daly said “it’s sad to come to this,” but he understands why the conservatory is installing security fencing. “You can see everyday that people are camping and sitting on [the conservatory’s] not.”

Butler McGregor and Daly were among those who co-signed a letter sent by the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Council, pleading for increased funding for the Victoria Police Department.

The group met with Chief Del Manak about Pandora, and they were told the department lacks the resources to deal with increased criminal activity downtown, Butler McGregor said. “We felt, at least initially, that we should support the police and ask the mayor and council to approve the increased resources and funding that [Manak] request in this budget.

The Council will vote on Victoria’s 2022 budget – including a $ 4 million increase for the VicPD – in January.

In the meantime, the Alix Goolden could remain closed to major events, a blow to the city’s long-suffering artistic and cultural community, which is still recovering from the pandemic.

It’s usually a busy time for Doug Lyngard, President of Victoria’s DL Sound & Lighting, which provides audio and visual support for live events. The company normally does 15 shows a year at Alix Goolden, he said, but the only event she’s booked to sound in the hall for is Winter Harp on December 10. “It’s such a shame,” Lyngard said.

The city of Victoria released its Victoria Music Strategy on November 4, parts of which are expected to take effect in 2022. Butler McGregor, who was on the arts and culture initiative’s advisory committee, is uncertain what type impact the investment will have if sites like Alix Goolden remain in limbo. “A big part of the strategy is to strengthen the sites in Victoria. It seemed unfortunate to me that one of Victoria’s most beloved halls, the Alix Goolden Performance Hall, could not be used to its full capacity due to the [street] situation.”

Daly, however, believes the situation on Pandora Avenue can be fixed. He is ready to help Butler McGregor, with whom he has regular meetings, and others to find a solution.

“People who have deep enough mental health and addiction issues need to get the health services they desperately need, and the people who exploit them and break the law, the police need to have the power to do something about it. subject, ”he said.

“We have no control over what happens on the road, it’s public property.

“We can control what’s going on in our building, and we’re doing it quite successfully. Jane putting a fence around the hall is her way of taking back control of her space.

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