Creating a Dreamspace

This is the stuff that dreams are made of…


Alice Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Film Association, stands in the Pickford Film Center, still under construction on Bay Street. As the final fundraising campaign comes to a close, construction of the center prepares to call it a wrap.


The Whatcom Film Association’s (WFA) dream of the Pickford Film Center sits behind the curtain of particle boards that screen the Dreamspace on Bay Street — waiting for its debut that is still a year away. To the casual observer, the two-screen independent film center has made little progress. But behind the scenes, much is going on.

“We’re a little behind,” said Alice Clark, executive director of the WFA. “But that’s to be expected.”

Inside, workers chip away at the 100-year-old building’s renovation, slowly transforming it into the vision the community has imagined.

The process has taken longer than expected, but finally the film center is on the verge of its final cut.


Take one: Production delays

One aspect that has complicated the construction schedule is that much of the time, resources and work come through some form of donation. Paul Moceri, president of Moceri Construction, which is doing the main work on the film center, said it’s a different process working on this compared to a regular job.

“Every aspect of the job has an element of donation that also affects schedule,” Moceri said.

Moceri said he has experience with projects where much of its progress relies on donations, including the American Museum of Radio and Electricity next door to the Dreamspace. The process takes juggling contractors that may have higher-paying jobs elsewhere with volunteers and unforeseen pitfalls that may set the project back.

But generally he said everybody who works on the project is great when they’re at the space.

“There really is a great spirit of cooperation with all the players,” Moceri said. “You see that on every job, but more when people choose to be on the job.”

Although the players were ready to act, calling “Action!” on the set was more of a challenge. Clark said getting the necessary permits from the city took longer than expected. Fundraising also took longer than expected and she said the WFA had to compete with other nonprofit campaigns. She said the original design was done well, but would have cost too much money and needed to be redone to make it workable. The city also mandated that the water and sewage would require whole new lines for the facility.

Another process that will take longer than normal is complying with a state-awarded grant. The WFA received a $325,000 grant to make the building LEED certified, accomplished by taking certain “green” steps, such as recycling waste and documenting every step of the construction. Clark said the film center is aiming for a silver rating — the third-highest rating in the system defined by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Several new buildings in the county are LEED certified, but Clark said the film center will be the only remodeled building to have the designation.

The Pickford Film Center will also be the only LEED certified movie theater in the country, she said.


Take two: Closing the gap

One of the first acts of the project was to clean 100 years of junk out of the Dreamspace basement. Then Clark said contractor Kenny Roos and his Bobcat nearly singlehandedly excavated 25 truckloads of dirt to lower the floor. The Bobcat was lowered down with a forklift, and Moceri rented conveyers from Birch Equipment at a discount price to transport the dirt out. The next phase is to seismic retrofit the building with steel beams.

For now, the basement has a smooth concrete floor — but the empty building looks like anything but a movie theater.

“It’s like a skating rink down there,” Clark said.

Clark said there is a sense of immediacy to the film center project because the building the Pickford Cinema is currently in is up for sale. The WFA’s lease at the building, owned by Allied Arts of Whatcom County, runs through June 2008. But if the building is sold, she said she doesn’t know if the new owners would allow the Pickford to continue beyond that lease.

Clark said she would rather not have a gap between when the Pickford Cinema closes and the film center opens.

The association plans on taking nearly everything from the current cinema, including the projector from 1922 that is used in the Picture Show in Fairhaven, also owned by Allied Arts of Whatcom County.

“By the time we leave that place, what will be left are the horsehair seats,” Clark said.


It’s a wrap: Finding funding

The new seats in the film center are part of the fundraising effort. Donors can buy a seat that will have a plaque with their name on it, which will help fund construction. Clark said nearly all the seats are sold, a testament to community sentiment for the project.

“A lot of people feel it is a really important project and want to figure out how to make it happen,” Clark said.

Clark said much of the fundraising responsibilities have been taken off the WFA by someone in the community, who she said prefers to remain anonymous. That person is donating his own time and resources that mirror his passion for independent film, Clark said.

“He doesn’t want the spotlight to be about him,” she said.

When all is said and done, the WFA hopes to raise more than $2.5 million for the project — an amount that would let the association own the Dreamspace outright.

Clark, who got involved in the project 10 years ago as a volunteer, said she sometimes wonders about the project, but then sees people standing in line at the Pickford Cinema on Cornwall Avenue.

“It’s a constant reminder we’re on the right track,” she said.


Businesses rally around new theater

More than 200 businesses and community members have donated time, resources and money to the Pickford Film Center. Moceri Construction is doing the job at discount rates, along with most of the subcontractors. The reasons for being involved echo with each donor.

Wood Stone Corporation President Keith Carpenter said his company is donating resources because of his employees.

“In thinking on what we do and don’t support, we like to support things that people at Wood Stone are directly involved in,” he said. “We think that to have an independent theater is important to our community, and a great many people at Wood Stone go to a lot of movies.”

Jeff Arvin and Craig Aument, owners of Cascade Joinery, are donating decorative timberwork to the concession area.

“We’ve supported the Pickford for a number of years,” Arvin said. “If having the Dreamspace helps further their goal, we’re all for it.”

Robert Janyk at Birch Equipment said the company is involved primarily because owner Sarah Rothenbuhler believes in the Pickford. Janyk, who does production work at the Upfront Theatre, said Birch Equipment is giving a discount for any equipment contractors rent for the project.

“I absolutely dig the fact we’re involved,” he said. “It’s a part of the community and so are we.”


Related Stories