A community consultation meeting about the future of the former Ashcroft Elementary School property drew some 30 members of the public, who took part in a Zoom meeting on Feb. 4.
The property has been operating as the Ashcroft HUB since shortly after the school closed in 2015. The HUB Society and School District No. 74 (SD74) were nearly halfway through a nine-year lease when, at their Jan. 4, 2021 meeting, the trustees of the board of education of SD74 voted to go ahead with the disposal process for the property.
The community consultation meeting on Feb. 4 was part of the district’s efforts to get feedback from the community served by the HUB. Members of the public have been encouraged to contact SD74 (firstname.lastname@example.org) with their thoughts about the property and its future, and complete a brief survey on the district’s website (www.sd74.bc.ca).
SD74 secretary treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet gave a brief overview of the situation, noting that the board regularly reviews the disposal of properties. She said that even though the property is no longer operating as a school, it still costs SD74 approximately $26,000 per year to maintain.
She also clarified the disposal process, stating that it does not mean the destruction of the property; it means transferring the title of the property.”
Several commenters expressed dismay over the district choosing to move forward with the disposal process during the pandemic, especially with several years still remaining on the existing lease.
“It seems to me that the community should have had more input into whether we thought this was good timing with the disposal or whether SD74 could have considered that,” said one, while another added “We live in unprecedented and uncertain times, and this is adding uncertainty to the community.”
“Thirty people is not a huge percentage of the community,” said another commenter. “If this were not a time of COVID-19 there would have been a better cross section of the community here.”
Jim Duncan of the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society said that his experience building sets for WRAPS theatre productions enabled him to say that nowhere else in town was suitable. “If the HUB were to go we’d probably lose WRAPS putting on plays.”
Another WRAPS board member spoke of the property’s long history as a place of education, and said that the HUB was continuing that tradition by providing education of a different sort for many people, noting the many youth in particular who had taken part in WRAPS theatre productions and learned a variety of new skills while gaining experience and self-confidence.
Jim Mertel of Sage Sound Singers said that without the rehearsal space at the HUB there would be no concerts, and no singers to take part in WRAPS musicals. “We’re worried that we won’t have this resource. It’s super valuable to us, and as a previous speaker said, you’re fulfilling your educational mandate by leasing the school to the HUB.”
The founder of Krush dance studio, Kelly Mykyte, said that when she moved to Ashcroft in 2015 she wanted to fulfill her passion of opening a dance studio, but could not find a suitable space until the HUB became available.
“There is nothing quite like the HUB. More than 150 people — 10 per cent of the population of Ashcroft — are enrolled in dance classes there. I don’t know what I’d do without the HUB. I don’t even live there anymore, but it’s such a sense of home, and it’s the part of Ashcroft I miss the most.
“The HUB encompasses everything you want to say about Ashcroft: passion, activity, love. I hope it stays in the hands it’s in now. The HUB makes dance affordable to everyone. Their heart is to provide for the community, and that’s what it should stay as.”
The HUB has enabled the South Cariboo E. Fry Society food bank to store supplies there, not only ensuring a “nest egg” for the community but enabling the society to provide assistance to others, said executive director Trish Schachtel.
“The closure of the HUB would affect other communities as well, because we won’t be able to provide that additional food security for smaller food banks.” Schachtel also said that she has been approached by funders about programming, and “all of those plans include me using the HUB space. We work with a lot of marginalized people in this community, and the beauty of the HUB is anonymity. You don’t know why people are there. My society can’t provide the support we are at the level we are without the HUB.”
The importance of the HUB as a “drawing card” for the community was mentioned. “All I heard when I moved here in 2015 was ‘HUB, HUB, HUB,’” said Annie Bourret. “I love the mix of things there, the vast array of opportunities, all the age groups. I hope our community will keep the HUB, as it’s important to its vitality.”
Kristina Schwende echoed these thoughts. “I’ve only been here since 2017, but I’ve taken classes there and got to know the people keeping the space going and what they’ve fought through. It’s such a unique and special place. If the community lost this it would be tragic.”
Gloria Mertens commented on the HUB’s unique spaces, which could not be replaced by any other venue in the community. She also noted the importance of keeping the venue available for possible educational use in case it was needed in the future. “Building a new school costs an incredible amount of money. You should keep access to the property so that it can be retrofitted for really young children as well as for community use.”
Desert Sands student Rhea Little spoke of the importance of the HUB to her as a youth. “It opened up opportunities and has given me experiences I would never have had. I worked there, and went there for teen nights, which were awesome. They made the town more appealing for teens, gave us something to look forward to. I’ve done dance classes and used the gym, and friends have got memberships at the HUB and become more active.”
River Winwood, who used to run the teen nights, said the HUB has been a huge part of her life. “I started off doing camps there, I ran the teen program. It was such an amazing experience, and gave me so much knowledge for future jobs.
“I had so much fun dancing and teaching fitness classes. They gave me the opportunity and funded a lot of my courses. I would never have had that chance without the HUB.”
All feedback received by the district by Feb. 19 — including letters, meetings with stakeholder groups, the survey results, and comments from the community consultation — will be brought to the board of education for consideration at its March 2 meeting, where they will consider various options for the property.