This was the message delivered to City of Salmon Arm council, along with 1,259 names on a petition asking that “School District #83 and the City of Salmon Arm exercise their options and prevent the demolition of” the Downtown Activity Centre (formerly Salmon Arm Elementary School).
Dorothy Rolin, president of the Salmon Arm branch of the Okanagan Historical Society, made the plea in a presentation to council on May 24.
The DAC turns 100 in 2022.
The petition includes names of people who currently use the DAC, former students and teachers who still have strong nostalgia for the school, as well as people who went there when it was known as the Consolidated High School, Rolin said.
She reminded council the city’s community heritage committee has already committed its support to preserving the school by adding the brick building to its heritage register.
“To my knowledge, we currently have two heritage brick buildings that are owned by the city. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could save the third and last one?” Rolin asked, pointing out that while fundraising projects could be undertaken to help with the purchase of the building, the historical society has too few members to co-ordinate such an undertaking.
Rolin also provided details on other communities that have turned former schools into thriving centres for a variety of activities.
Penticton saved their brick heritage high school built in 1921, renamed it the Shatford Centre, and turned it into the Okanagan School of the Arts.
Rolin described the renovations that were undertaken to turn the building with a similar layout as the DAC into a useful and accessible space.
“As you can see, the ‘learning kitchen’ is all new and can cater to 170 people for a sit-down meal in the auditorium,” she said referring to her PowerPoint presentation. “The success story of the former old Penticton High School is just one option that could be applied to our own school.”
“We have to be really frank; the safest way to save the building is to be the next buyer and we want to be clear on what the city can and cannot do,” said Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond, noting nothing can proceed until the school district announces plans for the building. “If we’re going to be honest, it’s hard for the city to save a building they don’t own and one that doesn’t have a provincial heritage designation.”
In response to Rolin’s indication that DAC user groups are likely going to be given until 2018 to find alternate locations, Coun. Tim Lavery said the timeline is very tight for planning, acquisition and budget concerns.
“I am comfortable looking at what it would take and putting the DAC in the (budget) conversation, he said. “I do think it needs to be part of a conversation of what kind of meeting space is needed in the town.”
Coun. Chad Eliason said he realized what a vibrant addition the DAC is to the community but was not encouraging as needed funds are not in the city’s budget and the building has not yet been placed on the market.
“Old buildings are very expensive and getting them up to the place they need to be is very high,” he said. “We’d be asking taxpayers to cough up the money. You have more than 1,200 (signatures) to say it’s a good idea, but we would really have to look at can we afford it?”
Coun Kevin Flynn advised Rolin to take the historical society’s request to the chamber of commerce and Downtown Salmon Arm.
“It’s not part of the city’s strategic plan, but based on current usage, there is the need for active meeting spaces,” he said, noting he would like to look further into the Shatford Centre.