Veer: Let’s Talk — City working on preserving school heritage building

Council often receives questions from citizens regarding the future intentions of some of the vacant infrastructure in our community, some of which is municipal (former RCMP building) and most of which is provincial jurisdiction (former Valley Park Manor, Red Deer Nursing Home, and North Michener, for example). I will address these challenges specifically in a future article.

This month, however, I will outline a viable solution that our community is pursuing for the former Central Elementary School heritage building.

The Canada Winter Games and Red Deer Public School District recently presented the city with a partnership proposal to save one of Red Deer’s most significant heritage buildings, the former Central Elementary, and to re-purpose it for future public access.

The Canada Winter Games (CWG) needed to determine where the medal ceremonies for the Games will occur when we welcome 20,000 Canadians in 2019.

Many communities faced with a similar decision opt for a temporary staging area, but the CWG Legacy Committee challenged themselves to build a permanent public square, instead of spending the same amount of money on a temporary location with no physical legacy to show for it once the Games have come and gone.

At the same time, the Red Deer Public School District (RDPSD) was faced with a challenge of their own: what to do with the former Central Elementary building, a piece of vacant infrastructure it is responsible for, but have few options given the building does not meet modern school design standards.

Had the CWG and RDPSD not presented the City with this partnership possibility, I fully anticipate that it would have been a challenge the City would have inherited in the very near future.

Community feedback in recent years regarding heritage infrastructure in the community has been consistently clear; Not only does the community in general expect the City endeavour to preserve heritage buildings, and do so before their historic integrity is compromised, but they be repurposed for public access as much as possible.

Were it not for the opportunity presented by our community partners, the capital and operating costs of restoring and repurposing this heritage building would likely have been cost prohibitive, meaning Red Deer could have unfortunately added yet another heritage building to the loss of historic infrastructure that had been allowed to deteriorate “past the point of no return,” with demolition being the most likely among very limited options.

This proposed partnership likely represents our community’s best means, arguably only means, of protecting a heritage building that would otherwise deteriorate and remain vacant until demolition.

Not only that, revitalizing this geographic area in downtown has general community benefit in other ways. Reclaiming public spaces for legitimate social purposes helps to deter illegal activity, public infrastructure investment is usually followed by private sector development in the vicinity, and public access to this site means community life will be brought to a site that would otherwise be dormant and, in the future, derelict.

This project will also allow for future greater financial and other efficiencies in city operations by consolidating some city services in the building instead of leasing programming space elsewhere in the community.

There also is likely strong opportunity for other community organizations to locate in what will ultimately prove to be Red Deer’s most central community centre.

Now that there is an agreement in principle between the CWG, RDPSB, and the city, prospective concepts and designs, public consultation, and discussions around future operational uses for this site following the Games will commence.

Thank you to our community partners, the Canada Winter Games Host Society and the Red Deer Public School District, for their leadership in making potential become reality.

The Red Deer we enjoy today is in large part because of partnerships of the past.

I hope this helps to answer some of your questions until next month.

As always, council thanks you for the ongoing opportunity to represent you. We look forward to seeing you all in the near future and hearing about what is important to citizens in our community.

Mayor Tara Veer

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