The new Red Deer Culture Services Centre, at 5205 48th Ave., officially opened with a number of public activities and entertainment, as well as an open house, July 5.
The centre not only includes administrative offices for the city’s culture services section, but also a public art gallery, visual and performing arts studios, a variety of programing areas, a very large multi-purpose room, rentable meeting spaces and an array of other arts and culture amenities and services.
On the west side of the building is the Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza, which allows events, performances and many other community activities to be moved outdoors.
The building was acquired by the city in 2016. This past winter, it was used as offices for the Canada Winter Games. Before that, for three quarters of a century, it was used as a school.
During the 1920s and 1930s, there was an increasingly urgent need for new school buildings in Red Deer.
The existing facilities had become badly overcrowded, particularly as a result of the baby boom that accompanied the end of the First World War. However, economic times were tough and money was tight.
In 1928, the school board was forced to build a new high school as the existing one was literally starting to collapse. Because construction expenses on the new school were kept to an absolute minimum, it was consequently poorly built.
The public school board struggled along as best it could through the Great Depression. By the end of the decade, it was obvious that another school, particularly for middle or intermediate grades, would have to be constructed.
The Second World War had broken out in 1939. The public school board, therefore, not only faced the challenge of getting the necessary funds in place to build a new school, but also of securing permission from the authorities to proceed with a major non-military construction project.
The board was able to garner support for the planned intermediate school by proposing to build Red Deer’s first proper gymnasium.
That gymnasium was to be used not only by students and the public, but also by the soldiers from the new A-20 military training camp north of 55th Street.
The new school, which would house students from grades seven to nine, was also to have improved facilities for shop, home economics, science, art and music. The total cost of the building was $50,000. The official opening took place Nov. 27, 1940.
In 1947, the new Red Deer Composite High School opened in part of the old A-20 Army Camp. The 1928 high school building was then turned into additional classroom space for older elementary grade students.
In 1950, with another post-war baby boom and a spike in student enrolments, an addition was built onto the north end of the intermediate school at a cost of $85,000, reflecting the increases in post-war construction costs.
By the mid-1960s, it was obvious the old 1928 school building had passed its lifespan. Consequently, it was torn down and replaced with the new Central Junior High (now middle) School.
As the junior high school students moved to the new facility, the Intermediate School was converted to an elementary school. An addition was also built onto the south end of the 1940 building to handle all the young elementary grade students.
In 1997, the Central Elementary School (former intermediate school) building was renamed City Central School. In 1998, it was closed.
The facility was later taken over by the Gateway Christian School. After Gateway Christian moved to the old River Glen School, the public school board decided the intermediate/elementary school was surplus to its needs.
Hence, the city acquired the building to repurpose it to a new community arts and culture facility in the centre of town.
At the same time, one of Red Deer’s historic sites has now been preserved for future generations.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.