Smithers council wants to build new cultural centre

The Town of Smithers has listed the construction of a new multi-purpose cultural facility as part of its four-year strategic plan.

A new multi-purpose cultural centre will be built to house the Smithers museum, library, art gallery and visitor centre under a four-year plan announced by Mayor Taylor Bachrach on Monday.

The Town of Smithers Strategic Priorities: 2015-2018 document outlines initiatives the council plans to achieve during its current term.

The document is based on discussions between councillors, who were elected in November, at a retreat held in March.

Meetings between councillors and small groups of citizens were also held to inform the council’s priorities through the Table Talks consultation initiative.

The plan to build a new cultural centre was the biggest new infrastructure project revealed in the report.

Although $5 million to build a new library in 2017 was set aside in the town’s five-year capital plan, Bachrach said the idea to build a multi-purpose facility had come from the community via feedback from Table Talks.

The mayor said the investment in a new cultural facility would also balance out the town’s spending on recreation, such as the multi-million new ice arena, in recent years.

“Everyone recognizes that Smithers is a really active community and people love physical recreation and we are so blessed to have so many assets but really we want to be a comprehensive community and we are a diverse community,” he said.

“There are a lot of people for whom the arts and culture side of things is one of the important reasons they live here so we want to make sure we are focussing equally on these other aspects.”

The centre would also include a communal space.

Upgrades to Central Park, a council-owned pocket of land at the corner of Main Street and Highway 16, was carried over from the last council’s list of priorities.

Establishing more multi-use walking and cycling corridors, labelled greenways, to encourage active transportation is also part of the plan.

Socio-economic initiatives include the creation of an Affordable Housing Plan and implementation strategy to address a shortage of options for residents, including the homeless community.

According to the document, the plan would focus on supportive housing and subsidized market rental housing.

It says the town will work with the Smithers Action Group Association to help lock down a location for its supportive housing project.

The council’s strategic vision also includes a commitment to address concerns about cost-sharing and governance between rural residents and people living within town boundaries.

“Many people who live rurally seek greater influence over town decisions and likewise many people who live in town would like more equitable ways of sharing the cost of services that benefit the larger area,” said Bachrach.

“To the degree that it’s possible council will work to identify and build innovative new structures that address these issues around joint-governance and joint-cost sharing.”

Other priorities include improvements to Bovill Square, measures to highlight the town’s tourism assets and a Community Food Task Force to address food security issues.

Bachrach said the council had an “ambitious” agenda.

“We’ve tried to create a set of initiatives that represent the diversity of the community and also move us forward in a direction together,” he said.

Bulkley Valley Museum curator Kira Westby welcomed the plan for a multi-purpose cultural centre.

She said the museum needed more space to comfortably host school groups, expand exhibits and showcase more items.

“This is a very exciting announcement to hear that the town is interested in investing in culture in Smithers, said Westby.

Smithers Public Library director Wendy Wright said the library was in urgent need of more space.

She welcomed the multi-purpose concept.

The more organizations that share one roof then the more people are drawn in to discover more and more services that are available to them,” she said.

The full list of priorities is available on the town’s website at www.smithers.ca.

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