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Aboriginal skills program evicted

Cori Thunderchild,  director of Essential Skills for Aboriginal Futures program in New Westminster, dismantles a desk as the organization moves out of its facility on Carnarvon Street following an abrupt eviction as the result of construction above them.   - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Cori Thunderchild, director of Essential Skills for Aboriginal Futures program in New Westminster, dismantles a desk as the organization moves out of its facility on Carnarvon Street following an abrupt eviction as the result of construction above them.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

A New Westminster-based aboriginal skills training program is scrambling to find a new location after being evicted on short notice for complaining that construction in their building was creating seismic-like shaking in their offices.

The Essential Skills for Aboriginal Futures (ESAF) program has been operating at 735 Carnarvon St. since 2008. Being in Downtown New West was ideal because it offered easy access via SkyTrain from all over the Lower Mainland for its clients. The space was on the ground floor of a 16-storey highrise with the top 12 floors being residential.

In 2012, the building’s owners received approval from city council to convert the second through fourth floors from office space to residential rental units.

After its original lease expired, ESAF opted for a month-to-month deal with the previous owners because they knew renovations were on the way. At first the work seemed innocuous enough that ESAF would be able to bear with it and continue operating there until its service contract with the federal government expired in December 2014, said Cori Thunderchild, ESAF director.

But then one day about seven weeks ago, the building and desks suddenly began to shake. The noise was deafening, Thunderchild said. While it felt like an earthquake, it turned out it was jackhammers at work above them.

Thunderchild and the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS), the non-profit that runs ESAF, complained to property manager Kim Schuss of Dorset Realty because there had been no warning jackhammers were going to be used. Thunderchild said she told him ESAF couldn’t run its classes with the noise going on, and that some of the construction was affecting their computer network and lab. Earplugs and Tylenol were inadequate solutions to the problem.

“It made it really impossible to work,” said Thunderchild. “I told [Schuss], ‘Man, you are crippling our organization,’ and the response I got from that was an eviction notice. We’ve basically become an inconvenience to them. We’re getting pushed out.”

ESAF was told to vacate the premises by Nov. 30. ACCESS CEO John Webster said the organization wanted to sign a five-year lease back in the spring but didn’t because of the construction and communication issues. When this latest incident occurred and they were still unable to get a response from Schuss, they reluctantly decided they had no choice but to move.

“We don’t want to move. We’ve been here a long time,” said Thunderchild.

Fortunately they’ve been able to find room in ACCESS’s Surrey, Annacis Island and Downtown Eastside locations for some of the classes, but many of ESAF’s employees have nowhere to work.

Thunderchild believes ESAF should be reimbursed for the extra expenses caused by the construction.

Attempts by the NewsLeader to reach Schuss for comment before deadline were unsuccessful.

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