This summer, the G.H. Dawe Community Centre will reopen after a two-year major renovation and revitalization project. The reopening on Aug. 1 will also be another milestone in the nearly 40-year history of a unique example of co-operation between the Red Deer Public and Red Deer Regional Catholic school districts, the City of Red Deer and the Red Deer Public Library.
The origins of this remarkable combined community facility stem from the shift in growth patterns in Red Deer in the 1960s and 1970s. While only 15 per cent of the city’s residents lived north of the river in the 1950s, by the early 1970s, more than a quarter lived in the northside subdivisions and the percentage was rising rapidly.
In July 1971, representatives of the public and Catholic school boards, the Regional Planning Commission and senior city administrators got together to discuss facility planning for North Red Deer. A tentative proposal was made to consider integrated facilities involving both school boards and the city.
A parcel of land was acquired on the south side of 67th Street, west of 59th Avenue. The site was roughly divided into three for each organization’s school/recreation facility. A series of public meetings were held to solicit public input into the plans.
A consensus emerged that the schools should be designed so that the community could use them day and night. There was also a growing agreement that instead of three distinct buildings, an integrated complex should be built with combined school, library, recreational and community facilities.
Meanwhile, the provincial government began to lend its support. In 1975, a new policy document called Share It was issued that backed the concepts of joint educational and recreational facilities with significant community involvement.
In May 1976, a joint use agreement was signed by the two school districts and the city. It was the first time in Alberta, and probably in Canada, that three such public bodies had agreed to construct and operate a joint education and community complex.
In 1976-1977, the first phase of the complex, the public school district’s “community –core” school was constructed. Construction was hampered somewhat by the heavy clay conditions of the site and the enormous construction boom going on in the city, which made workers and construction supplies hard to get at times.
Finally, in the fall of 1977, the building was more or less ready for occupancy. The school board decided to name the building the G.H. Dawe Community Centre in honour of the recently-retired public school superintendent, who had been an enthusiastic promoter of the initiative and of community education in general.
In 1980, phase two was completed with a public swimming pool. At the official opening ceremonies, the pool was unofficially inaugurated when city Councilor Dennis Moffat playfully pushed city recreation superintendent Don Moore into the water.
In 1981-82, the Catholic school district constructed St. Patrick’s Community School. An arena and mall were also added to the complex, as well as a library for both school and public use.
Over the succeeding 30 years, the centre proved to be a wonderful example of co-operation as well as genuine community involvement and support. However, the problems with the construction became more and more evident as the years went by.
Consequently, on March 30, 2008, the community centre and the public library closed, not just for renovations but also a major revitalization of the facilities. Included in the project are a family aquatics area, two water slides and a spray park. There will also be a new gymnasium, a significant increase in the public library’s space, as well as an overall improvement to the exterior of the complex. Thus, Red Deer’s largest and most important multi-use public facility on the north side of the city will be able to continue to provide the broad range of community services and amenities for many more years to come.
Michael Dawe is curator of history for the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery and the son of G.H. Dawe.