Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ board is set to vote on a recommendation that would see Franklyn Street gym demolition. Pictured here, Nanaimo Fire Rescue staff on scene after a gym fire in October 2018. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees to decide Franklyn Street gym’s fate

SD68 committee recommends demolishing gym, damaged by fire in October 2018

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ board is set to decide the fate of Franklyn Street gym next week.

The 97-year-old building, on the corner of Franklyn and Wesley streets, was damaged in a 2018 fire and insurance money isn’t adequate enough to fully fund repairs, last estimated at $1.3 million, according to the district. Trustees will vote, at their Wednesday, Nov. 25 board meeting, on whether to tear down the heritage building alongside the old district career resource centre on Selby Street.

B.C. Ministry of Education approval for resource centre demolition has been granted, Mark Walsh, district secretary-treasurer, said at last Wednesday’s business committee meeting. While bids came in “a little higher” than originally anticipated, the ministry was supportive, Walsh said, and officials are confident that gym demolition can take place using insurance money and “small investment” from local capital.

A staff report stated the facility is “long past its useful life from a building systems perspective,” but following a question from trustee Jessica Stanley about reusing anything from the gym, Walsh said the gym floor is still functional and will be moved to Pleasant Valley Elementary School if demolition is approved.

Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Society had used the gym to serve “vulnerable youth and families,” the report said, and the non-profit has since been relocated to the Woodlands Secondary School site, which it said wasn’t an ideal situation, as there was a decrease in program attendance. Scott Saywell, district superintendent and CEO, said Grace Elliott Nielsen, Tillicum Lelum Friendship Centre executive director, had been informed about the latest developments.

When trustee Greg Keller asked about considering future programming for the site in the long-range facilities plan, staff said there were things in the works.

“We’re working with a few partners, that include the City of Nanaimo, B.C. Housing, Snuneymuxw, Tillicum Lelum and Kw’umut Lelum – really just initial conversation to explore what opportunities might exist down on that property, in a way not unlike our Te’tuxwtun property on Fifth Street,” said Saywell. “The designs would be to imagine sort of a ‘village’ down there, but [they’re] very initial conversations and certainly nothing substantial for sure.”

While a majority of trustees voted in favour of the recommendation at the business meeting, some, including board chairperson Charlene McKay, said they were conflicted.

“The value of a building goes beyond its monetary value and I think that this is a piece of history that is highly valued by members of our community, trustees, people who have grown up in Nanaimo and most certainly Tillicum Lelum…” said McKay. “The possibilities are endless when all of us come together about what we can create in that space, and I’m sorry that it wasn’t a revitalization of the gym for future use, but I believe that we can still find a good way to work together in that area of the land.”

Stephanie Higginson abstained from voting due to a perceived conflict of interest, as she said her husband had “arms-length” involvement.

Nielsen told the News Bulletin she was saddened and services offered at the site had benefited many.

“We worked probably with three or four generations of families over the years there and we have managed to redirect and support some people that would probably not go anywhere else for services,” Nielsen said. “Although this school district has been good about letting us use Woodlands, it really isn’t in a location that we can address the needs of the people that we had served before. Some of them we can, but usually those are the ones that are doing not too bad anyway.”

Nielsen said she has ideas for the potential village at the old gym site.

“We were mostly concentrating on let’s make it look really nice and have a field and a gym where we can work with the kids and provide the wraparound services that we did there before,” said Nielsen.

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