Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea has closed effectively Monday afternoon. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Shaw Centre for Salish in Sidney ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the future

Councillors praise facility for adapability in the face of the pandemic

Members of Sidney council praised the resiliency of the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.

“It’s just a really good group doing really good work and I commend them for their efforts as well,” said Coun. Terri O’Keeffe, council’s liaison to the facility.

She made those comments after council received a letter from the facility, which has faced a number of issues over the past few months in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with a significant loss of revenue. From March to May, the facility had to re-adjust its budget.

While it had planned to earn $241,900 in revenues during that period, its actual revenues totalled $20,200, a difference of almost 92 per cent, according to the letter from Pauline Finn, executive director, Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, and Janine Morris, board chair and treasurer of the New Marine Centre Society.

“The full closure of the centre occurred at the outset of one of our strongest revenue generating periods,” the letter said. “As a result, expeditiously trimming expenses was fundamental to survival.”

The facility trimmed expenses by $106,300 from planned expenses of $284,100. These reductions included reducing staff to six from 17. The facility also secured various forms of financial support from the federal and provincial government, as the share of contributed revenues rose to $160,200 from $69,200 following federal and provincial contributions, while trimming expenses including layoffs. Overall, the facility’s net income was some $24,300 in the red during this period.

RELATED: Sidney signs off on 2020 budget with 1.79 per cent tax increase

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The facility underwent a phased re-opening, starting with a soft opening June 1-8, a community opening on June 12, and an expanded opening on June 25.

According to Finn and Morris, visitor volume is improving gradually with monthly attendance compared to 2019 low but improving positively month-over-month.

While the centre continues to plan “conservatively,” it is “cautiously optimistic” about the future in pointing to the resiliency and adaptability of staff, who also had to deal with unrelated, external equipment issue in August when the geothermal system supplying continuous salt water unexpectedly shut down.

“While challenging, this experience was a success,” the letter reads. “The [centre’s] team responded well and executed an emergency salt water supply protocol never before performed.”

The centre also made provincial news in June when it recognized B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry by making its new giant Pacific octopus her namesake.

RELATED: Sidney aquarium names new octopus after Dr. Bonnie Henry

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith as well as Couns. Chad Rintoul, as well Scott Garnett joined O’Keeffe.

“Obviously, it is not the year that they had hoped to be having, but certainly our appreciation goes out to the Centre for the Salish Sea for the manner in which they have [adapted],” said Rintoul.

Garnett said the facility used its enforced closure well, while McNeil-Smith took a broader view in saying that he is “buoyed and inspired” by the “positive actions” taken by the centre, as well as the ArtSea and the Sidney Museum and Archives, who also updated council.

“All of these organizations that do receive significant grants on annual basis from us have not come become to council since the pandemic started to seek additional support in funding and I’m most impressed by that,” he said. “I think my colleagues are as well.”

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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com