As the pandemic restrictions lift, the Marsh Street Centre (MSC) in Clarksburg is gearing up to welcome the community back after months of inactivity.
“With the coffee culture we have, the seniors come in here a couple of times a week, and it's things like that that people are really looking forward to getting back to,” said Robert Brown, vice president and secretary of the MSC, a non-profit facility that facilitates concerts, theatre performances, workshops, clubs and special events in the Town of The Blue Mountains.
Brown confirmed that the centre will begin hosting its senior and small group programs immediately and its rental space will also be taking bookings for the coming months.
He added that the centre will be strictly following COVID-19 safety restrictions and recommendations from the province and the local health unit, which will mean maintaining reduced capacity indoors for the time being.
Yesterday, Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for the Grey Bruce Health Unit, issued modified Step 3 recommendations that "strongly recommended" gatherings in the region stay under 25 people outdoors and five people indoors as the region copes with having the highest COVID case incidence rate in the province.
"The MSC, having the wellbeing of our community at heart, will follow these recommendations and continue to restrict limits for gatherings to five people indoors and 25 people outdoors. This does not affect the scheduled day camps, which operate under specific Ontario guidelines," stated a recent notice from the board. "We hope to be able to welcome larger groups soon and will continue to work hard to ensure that we have a safe and comfortable venue for your enjoyment."
The centre will be running its popular Marsh Street Rocks program, a music school for kids that allows them to learn to play an instrument, form a band and perform.
“It's really popular and we also offer bursaries if the cost of the program is an issue,” said Brown. “We're really looking forward to getting this program going. It's a highlight for sure.”
Brown added that this year the Marsh Street Rocks program has welcomed a new instructor - Craig Smith. Smith is a local songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, performer, recording artist, producer, mixer and sound engineer. He has toured internationally, released two solo albums, and is a member of the popular bands Motown & Marley and ONTARIANS.
Kids entering the program this year will also have a new selection of instruments to choose from, thanks to a number of community donations.
“We did a donation campaign for people to donate old instruments,” Brown explained.
“We've got probably an extra 14 or so guitars and drum kits. And a lot of them are in great shape. We're going to tune them all up and we have another board member that's really handy at fixing amplifiers. So, it's coming along really well.”
He added that the centre intends to run the instrument donation program again this fall and encourages anyone with an old instrument kicking around to consider donating it to the program.
“We're also working on expanding that program by creating a recording studio for the kids,” he said.
This summer, MSC will also be playing host to another summer kids camp that is run by Active Arts. It will offer a variety of activities such as dance, crafts, drama, games and park time.
According to Brown, MSC has been hit hard financially over the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has had to remain closed for the majority of the pandemic.
“We're doing everything we can to keep the lights on. We’re fortunate that we've been able to survive without any debt at this point. But, it sure has been a challenge to keep everything running and make sure we don't have to borrow any money,” he said.
Over the past year, the MSC board has held several different online fundraisers to try and make up for lost rental income.
“We're really pleased with the community's response. They've been very generous,” Brown said.
“Any little bit helps as far as rentals and things like that. We're looking forward to getting that back. And people are calling everyday to see if they can book something. We're optimistic,” he continued.
Over the course of the pandemic closures, the MSC has been working to create a patio space at the rear of its building in order to offer the community additional outdoor event space.
Through the winter months, a roof structure was built and installed.
Brown said that the project has been made possible through a variety of grants, however, the grants do require the centre to produce 30 per cent of the project funds, meaning fundraising for the projects has remained vital.
With the roof now installed, the board is focused on raising funds for a concrete pad in order to create a safe and even surface.
“The original quote for the concrete pad has almost doubled since the start of the project. It can be anywhere between $20 to $30,000, just to get that pad done,” said Brown. “But, it'll be a real asset when it's ready.”
According to Brown, the MSC is aiming to have the patio functional for the public by late-August, early-September. He added that the patio area is licensed to serve alcohol and the board also plans to install some patio chairs and seating options.
For more information on the MSC, its programs and rental availability visit: marshstreetcentre.com or contact Marshstreetmanager@gmail.com.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca