A historic Red Deer school is on the way to becoming a preserved heritage building and cultural hub after first being used as downtown headquarters for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
Red Deer City Council voted unanimously on Monday to buy the red brick Central Elementary School for a dollar from the Red Deer Public School District. The idea is to upgrade the aging 1939 structure to code — first for use as a Canada Games Celebration Plaza, then as a lasting cultural legacy for the community.
Council heard the post-Games space would be available for broad purposes, including “celebrations” in the heart of the city. The City of Red Deer’s Cultural Services department would also relocate to the building from 39th Street.
However, these plans still hang on $7.5 million being approved for building upgrades during this week’s city capital budget deliberations.
Although some city councillors expressed concern about lacking public parking near the school and the possibility costs will escalate during renovations, most felt this was the perfect chance to preserve a cultural landmark, beloved by many people.
Paul Harris saw the transformation — to include repairing cracked masonry and upgrading electric and mechanical systems — as spurring downtown development. He believes the rejuvenated school-turned-hub will bring new people and businesses to the area, enhance local culture, and fit with the 2019 Canada Winter Games’ mandate of being the “greenest games” ever.
Lawrence Lee called it a “priceless” opportunity to create another downtown gathering place, while Ken Johnston felt Red Deer residents will get a great building at less than half the cost of constructing from scratch on purchased land.
Mayor Tara Veer considered this possibly the last chance to save a heritage building from falling into disrepair.
Lyn Radford, chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games, is thrilled the sporting events can also leave a lasting cultural and community legacy. She promised $1 million towards external building improvements.
Public school chair Bev Manning also praised the renovation, saying “Our schools really do belong to the community.”
Central Elementary was most recently occupied by Gateway Christian School, but has been leased out as office space since 2013. (Central Middle School, which is located directly east of this building, will continue operating as a school and will be unaffected by this proposal).