Among those on hand for the grand reopening of Darke Hall was (l to r) Mark Borgares, Conexus Board Chair; Robert Hawkins, Regina City Councillor; Donor Lynn Goldman; Lisa Mitchell, Associate Vice-President University Advancement and Communication; President Keshen; and the Honourable Gene Makowsky, Minister of Advanced Education. Photo by University Advancement and Communications
Building and restoring a historic community hub
April 21, 2022, marked a historic day for not only the University of Regina, but for the citizens and community of Regina. On this day, University of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Jeff Keshen, along with funders, partners and friends, officially re-opened Darke Hall which became – once again – a stunning centre for the performing arts.
It was all made possible with the support of the Government of Canada’s Enabling Accessibility Grant, many private donors, and through a partnership with Conexus Credit Union (Conexus) membership.
History of how the renewal project began
Darke Hall, originally known as the F.N. Darke Building for Music and Art, opened in 1929 as a gift to the University of Regina (formerly Regina College) and an expression of benefactor Francis N. Darke’s vision “to build a temple to the arts, and a centre for cultural activity.” Before long, Darke Hall became the premier concert hall in Southern Saskatchewan.
The concert hall underwent several renovations over the decades: rehearsal, recording, and storage rooms designed by architect Clifford Wiens were added in 1962, the building’s foundation was rebuilt starting in 1983, and new dressing areas were added in time for a long-awaited re-opening in 1986. Despite these upgrades, Darke Hall continued to deteriorate and eventually its doors were closed due to safety concerns. During this time, the University’s College Building on College Avenue was facing similar challenges.
In 2011, two Regina community members, Dr. Lynn Goldman and Dr. Jean Freeman, approached then-president of the University of Regina, Dr.Vianne Timmons, to advocate for the historic buildings, calling on her to invest in restoration. From this conversation, the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project was born.
Innovative thinking to community building
By September 2015, Darke Hall had been closed for several years. Community groups actively called for its re-opening, however, significant funding was required to bring the building up to code. Exploring local investment options to restore Darke Hall the University released a request for proposals (RFP) in 2016, seeking a development partner to support the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project.
When the University issued the RFP, Conexus was well into its journey of searching for a new location to consolidate its corporate services employees. Already having investigated 17 sites for its new headquarters, it soon realized that none would accomplish what a partnership with the University could. The partnership had the potential to help solve Conexus’ operational needs while supporting the community in restoring the College Avenue Campus and Darke Hall.
It was a hard decision to make; Conexus knew that the partnership would be a complex undertaking. As a local credit union with core values of being bold, creative, responsible and authentic, Conexus knew it needed to be bold, creative, and to think outside the box for the betterment of the larger community and be responsible in consideration for the future generations of College Avenue Campus learners. Conexus submitted a proposal to the University and in June 2016 was announced as the chosen partner. Through this partnership Conexus would contribute $8.25 million to the project.
Over time, this partnership has helped save College Avenue Campus and restore Darke Hall to a prestigious performing arts centre. It has also created new amenities for the community to enjoy for many years to come. This includes:
- A shared link space between Darke Hall and the Conexus Head Office building. Conexus helped the University save an additional $10 million on infrastructure, maintenance, and utilities due to shared heating/cooling infrastructure and the construction of the shared link. The shared link space creates accessibility into Darke Hall and can serve as a lobby or reception area for special events.
- Main floor amenities open to the public during regular business hours, including public washrooms, an ATM, water filling stations, seating areas and a local café. More than 20 percent of Conexus’ building is shared public space.
- Re-aligning Wascana Drive to help improve safety, traffic and pedestrian flow. This included straightening and adding signaling/lights to the new College Avenue and Wascana Drive intersection and creating public parking on both sides of the street.
- Installation of a new water line to service the Conexus building and the new Wascana Pool.
- Ensuring environmental impacts were minimized. While some trees were required to be relocated or removed during this project, for every one tree that was removed, Conexus funded three new trees planted in the park. The Conexus Head Office Building also has underground parking, ensuring that no new outdoor parking lots were created. Conexus also makes parking spots rented from the University of Regina available free to the public outside of business hours (after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all-day on weekends).
- Creating a space for a Conexus’ tech incubator, Cultivator powered by Conexus, helping local startups launch, grow and scale from right here at home.
Future of Darke Hall
As part of Darke Hall’s grand re-opening, it unveiled a new logo and announced a new management agreement with a not-for-profit society, governed by a community board – the Darke Hall Society - that will handle all leasing and operations of Darke Hall for years to come. This arrangement allows the University to retain ownership of the theatre but removes any operational costs to run Darke Hall. It’s also expected to help local community arts organizations within limited funds to access the world class facility.
To learn more about Darke Hall or to inquire about booking the theatre, visit www.darkehall.ca.
Thank you, Conexus
While each organization has different core interests, we both share the same value and commitment of community. Thank you, Conexus, for stepping up in a time of need.
This partnership is a true example of what is possible when the community comes together to collaborate and solve problems. Together, we have been able to preserve a piece of our shared history and build a community space for future generations. That is what community is all about.