Ashcroft HUB hoping to turn AES into centre for local user groups

A group of Ashcroft residents is working on a lease agreement with the school district for the recently abandoned elementary school.

Ashcroft HUB is hoping that the old adage, “when one door closes, another opens,” will ring true for Ashcroft Elementary School. They are hoping to turn the building into a multi-purpose centre for community user groups.

Ashcroft Council approved a $500 grant for them at the Aug. 24 meeting, even though they had already spent $8,045 of their $8,000 budget for community grants.

Coun. Al Mertens asked Council “to  find a way of accepting the request for $500 even though we’re overbudget. I believe believe they’re a valuable asset.”

Mayor Jack Jeyes noted that going overbudget wasn’t a good message to send out to the public, “but I think it’s important that this group be given every option to succeed.”

Mertens noted that Coun. Doreen Lambert would not be attending the annual UBCM conference this year even through there was money in the budget to do so, implying that the money could be taken from surplus funds there.

“Anyone who’s seen Clinton Elementary ‘ugly-ing’ itself away up there knows we have to act fast,” said Coun. Barbara Roden. “It will be a benefit young and old.”

HUB’s president, Juanita Little, says the idea came up at a community forum last April, hosted by the Village of Ashcroft. After that, a group of residents started looking into repurposing the building to avoid a derelict building and to provide services for the community.

“Closed schools  devalue the neighbourhood and are targets for vandalism,” she told a committee of the whole meeting of Ashcroft Council on Aug. 24. “By repurposing AES immediately, the community can avoid the pitfalls of an abandoned building.”

The HUB’s mandate is to keep the doors of the building open, to provide accessible, affordable space for clubs, groups and small entrepreneurs and support programming or events that build social connectedness through opportunities in wellness, recreation and the arts.

Other schools have done this, Little said, in Kamloops, Clearwater, Yale, Princeton and Spences Bridge.

The group has already met with school district and has a verbal agreement to lease the building. They would be responsible for heating and electricity costs as well as snow removal. The district would maintain the grounds. If they wanted to keep the playground, they would need to carry extra liability insurance.

Little said the group will work in stages to make the entire building available to the community as they work with the school district to develop the terms of the lease. The first stage (Sept. 2015-Dec. 2016) is to make the gym available for the current user groups who will be displaced come September.

Stage 2 (Jan.-Aug. 2016) will be to open up the use of front office spaces and rooms that can be most efficiently heated in the main hall to user groups, and work on the front facade and entrance area.

Stage 3 (Sept. 2016-Aug. 2017) will be to open up the main hallway of classrooms and library space, and look into facility upgrades.

Stage 4 (Sept. 2017-Aug. 2018) will be to open up other areas as needed while enhancing the outside grounds.

Little said the group was seeking a partnership with the Village.

“We would like the Village to act as a supporting partner in our grant applications and provide letters of support,” she said.

She suggested an in kind donation from the Village of snow removal from parking lot. In return, she sid, the Village could use the grounds to dump excess snow from around town.

She said the $500 grant from the Village would help with start up costs to get going before it’s boarded up.

“I think the biggest hurdle is the $30,000 per year operating cost,”  Gloria Mertens commented from the public. She suggested the group can look at two models of funding: try renting out space to cover costs, or persuade the Village to add a small parcel tax to tax notices that would be collected and forwarded to the group.

“It’s important to keep that $5 million asset in our community,” she said.

Coun. Doreen Lambert said she’d heard that the roof was in bad shape.

Little said they were aware of the building’s problems as outlined in a recent facilities report. She said through grants and fundraising, the group would hopefully find the money to repair it.

HUB member Susan McLean said the HVAC, as well, was cited for eventual replacement although it is still functioning.

Little said the group is currently developing the criteria of who they would like to rent the space out to.