Cowichan Valley Regional District staff will soon be issuing a request for proposals to assess the fitness of the old Saltair school-turned community centre.
Mel Dorey, the CVRD’s area director for Saltair/Gulf Islands said the RFP will “probably” be put out this week or next. Once a company is hired, the regional district’s decision makers will await a report to guide them on improvements moving forward.
“I would say by May, we should know what we want to do and we’ll probably have a public meeting,” Dorey said.
The CVRD purchased the old school site for $300,000 back in 2014.
The goal was to have a hub for the community to come together and a place for programs to be offered to residents so they don’t have to leave the area.
It’s been more than 10 years since it operated as a proper school but a daycare and some community groups have been using the facilities.
“We bought it with the idea of having a community centre and so there needs to be some upgrades to the building,” Dorey explained. “The daycare is operating in one wing of the building, which is like three classrooms and an activity room. Another wing doesn’t have sufficient heat so we’ve been operating minimally there with a quilting group, etcetera, but you have to turn on the heat in the morning and let it warm up.”
The remaining wing houses the gym and it’s currently closed to the public for safety reasons, namely falling ceiling tiles.
An older building, the structure is fraught with older-building problems. None of them are detracting from the end goal, however, Dorey noted.
“My guess is they’ll recommend doing all new ceiling tiles and maybe painting up and cleaning up the gym to remedy that situation. Then they’ll put in three furnaces,” he said. “Right now they have old oil furnaces and they had to take apart one furnace to make the other furnace work so one of the furnaces doesn’t even work. All the parts have been taken out of it.”
The school board had also previously done a contamination study and identified areas where asbestos and oil needed to be addressed.
“There were two oil tanks and one was defective so they remedied that,” Dorey said. “They did say there was asbestos in the building. It’s in the stucco on the outside but if you don’t disturb it you’re fine or if you do disturb it you have to have special safeguards.”
Once the assessment is complete, decisions will be made as to how to proceed.
“We do have $130,000 in gas tax money to do upgrades,” Dorey said. “We’re going to move forward and see what happens.”
The school-turned-community centre was a controversial purchase back in 2014 and has remained a sticky topic in and around Saltair with some saying it should never have been bought, others demanding it be sold immediately or torn down. Others still, worry about the affect it’ll have on their taxes.
“One of their biggest fears is it’s going to be a tax drain on themselves but we have a $45,000 budget that we can put into it each year and the taxes are not going up because of the building and the taxes have not gone up since we bought the building,” he stressed. “And we have the gas tax money to do the repairs.”
Dorey maintains it was a good decision to buy the site and it is, and will remain a big community asset.
“I probably didn’t handle it well, but I believed in it and you have to do what your conscience tells you is the best for the community,” he said.