What once was the learning grounds of hundreds of school children could house the history of our valley should the Bulkley Valley Historical and Museum Society have their wish.
Museum President Jocelyn Pearce and Museum Director Fergus Tomlin met with Smithers council last week, unveiling their plans to investigate the purchase of the old Bulkley Valley Christian elementary school campus.
The museum, Peace said, has been looking for a new building for quite some time to provide more room for the growing museum, but the old school provides two benefits for them, she said. One, it’s more financially feasible, and two, it’s more environmentally sound.
“This is a much better deal for us,” Pearce said. “It would be a shame to see it deteriorate. When it was first built it was built first class, so very little would have to be done with it — it’s perfect.”
The 23,780 square foot facility, listed at $1,690,000, would suit their current and future needs well, Peace said. The estimate on the table now is that to purchase the building, the bare lot behind it formerly used as a playground, and modifications to create showrooms and such would be around $4.5 million. For a new location, that estimate is closer to $7 million.
“Almost everything that we need is there,” Pearce said.
They would like to see the gymnasium turned into a theatre, and the large ex-kindergarten room would make for a nice room to host workshops or seminars in, she said. The building is already wired to hold their office, and there is more than enough room for storage and expansion of their current exhibits.
“The big thing about it is the ability to do more things with it,” Pearce said. “It enables us to look down the road.”
She said the theatre, which would be the same size as the Della Herman Theatre, is the most exciting part of the expansion, one they’d first like to see set in motion.
As it is now there’s not a lot of space in this community to rehearse and to put on performances, this outlet would provide groups in Smithers as well as groups travelling through Smithers the chance to put on a performance to showcase their talents.
“Looking to the future, we have all kinds of ideas,” Pearce said.
While in the future the museum has plans to expand its services and exhibits to fill the whole building, right now they’re planning on renting out the right wing of the old school.
This, Pearce explained, would help them keep the facility running and help offset operational costs, as well as help pay off the mortgage.
As to how they plan to finance the purchase of this building, they would be fundraising mostly out of town, Pearce said, asking for corporate donations and such as with such a limited population here even the more cost-friendly option would be out of reach.
Council, intrigued by the idea, stated they would like to see the business plan once this idea moves forward, but for now it seemed like a good idea.
“I think it’s key for our community to use that building in some way,” Councillor Charlie Northrup said.
Some suggestions from council as the society moves forward in considering the plan was to consider zoning and allowed uses. When it comes to the rental space, for example, public use 2 wouldn’t allow just anyone to set up shop there.
Parking and traffic congestion concerns were also noted, however that would all come out further in the business plan.
For now it was just a for your information type meeting, with no decisions being made.