Performing Arts Centre's a gem and accessible

November 20, 2015
Three buildings, four theatres on five levels under one roof: The new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is so beautifully designed, you'll be able to find your way around after only a few visits.
And it doesn't matter if you're walking or using a wheelchair or scooter it's accessible.

I've toured it twice and, yes, I was wowed by the overall site, but what I was really interested in were the built-in details that most people wouldn't even notice, but, if you need them, mean everything.

These are some of the features: Doors are automatic, the box office has lowered windows, there are lowered areas on the Algoma Central lobby bar and the snack bar in the Cogeco Lobby, talking elevators that tell you what floor you're on when the doors open and clear, readable signage is everywhere.

Partridge Hall is a beautiful space seating 781 people, including 28 mobility devices. And there are aisle seats with a fold-out arm to allow a person in a wheelchair to slide onto it without standing. I'd never seen these before. What a great idea. There is also room for scooters and wheelchairs on the first balcony. Seating in several areas can also be removed easily to allow space for wheelchairs and scooters. And, the person accompanying you will have a comfy theatre seat with two arms. There are railings, and steps that are lighted for safety and row identification. An infrared sound system enables people with hearing impairments to better enjoy the performance. To see where seating for people using mobility devices are go to, then to Rent the PAC and then Seat Maps.

Beside the entrance of Partridge Hall is a large, single user, family-style washroom for people in scooters and large wheelchairs. Another family-style washroom is down on the Cairns Recital Hall level and features an adult change table. Each of the two huge main washrooms have one oversized stall that will accommodate a wheelchair or scooter. There are twice as many toilets for women as men an excellent idea. 

Directly below the lobby is Robertson Theatre, and below that the film studio. Robertson Theatre is a large, black, accessible, multipurpose box. There's nothing here to hamper access. It can be configured to the needs of the user. It has retractable seating for 105 people that folds back into the wall but other than that all of the technology for visuals, lighting, sound, whatever is needed for an event, is in the ceiling or on the side walls, out of the way but ready for any occasion.

The accessible film theatre has surround sound and seating for people using wheelchairs behind the fourth row from the front.

On the west side, down a level, is the 304-seat Cairns Recital Hall that has accessible seating left, right and around the back and is used by Brock University for music and dance recitals and by community theatre groups. The accessible coat check is also down here, which means an elevator ride if you can't climb stairs.

Executive director Steve Solski made it clear that if you have mobility, hearing or seeing concerns tell the person at the box office when you call for tickets. Staff are trained to note what you need and plan how they can accommodate you before you get there.

According to Jim Graves of Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSAI), planning of the centre began about April 2011 and used the city's Facility Accessibility Design Standards (FADS) that the city requires for all building and renovations. FADS exceeds the Ontario Building Code. DSAI worked closely with the mayor's advisory committee on accessibility (AAC) throughout the design process.

Diana Lecinski, accessibility co-ordinator for St. Catharines said "the city and the AAC feel strongly that universal design is simply good for business and, in this case, good for the patrons of this facility."

"As one longtime member stated, 'Accessibility has come a long way, 10 years ago we would not have been sitting across the table from architects and engineers who are seeking our input on accessibility.'"

The St Catharines Standard
By Linda Crabtree