The Asooahum Centre will mark a new milestone in the three decades that the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre has worked to change lives in Red Deer.
Plans to build the long-awaited integrated housing and cultural centre are slowly taking shape as the society continues to file the necessary paperwork in order to build on the 3.5-acre canoe-shaped site on Riverside Drive.
The society has roughly $4.5 million in the bank from the provincial government to build affordable housing units. The cultural centre portion will take another estimated $5 million to build. A fundraising campaign is already underway.
Shovels must be in the ground by Sept. 29 as part of its funding agreement with the province.
The plan is to have all site development completed and at least the slabs poured by winter.
Tanya Schur, executive director of the centre, said it has been a long haul for the society, which has dealt with the disappointment of losing the Clearview North location last year.
City council rejected the site after overwhelming backlash from neighbouring community members.
The Riverside Drive site, east of Lions Campground, was selected after a joint task force looked at 20 sites in the city.
But it still drew criticism.
Many raised the alarm about potential flooding because the area had flooded in 2005. Others were concerned about tree loss and putting housing in a light industrial area.
While two Stantec Engineering studies concluded the development area would be above the flood levels from 2005, the society conducted its own hydrology study to ease the minds of its members.
The study looked at flooding on the river as far back as 1915. Schur said the buildings will be designed and built higher to weather flooding conditions.
“It’s meant some adaptations, but we are confident that when the water comes, we will be above it.”
Schur said the houses will be built on the back of the site, closer to the river, in order to avoid flooding from the road. The society is working with engineers and the city to develop the site with a reclamation approach. They want to limit the number of tree removals.
Schur said the designs have not been solidified but they have settled on a basic design of two apartment-style buildings called eight-plexes and a tower with 16 units. There will be some market housing.
“I think it really is the beginning of the new story, the beginning of building together,” said Schur. “Crossing over to that place of belonging, which is what Asooahum means. We see it as an opportunity to profile aboriginal culture and for aboriginal and non-aboriginal people to gather.”
The annual Walk for Friendship on June 16 will be the first major capital fundraising event. The money will go to the youth programming in the Asooahum Centre.
“Not only will (the events) raise money for the Asooahum Centre, but also create awareness about aboriginal cultures in Central Alberta,” said Schur. “We really want to begin to offer that hand of friendship to the citizens of Red Deer and Central Alberta to welcome them to experience the culture through different events that we will put on in the next year.”
There will be cultural programming accessible to the public. Some of the programming will support the families on site but there will be a downtown presence.
Schur said the housing is not just for aboriginal people but people who want to live in aboriginal culture and learn about the culture and community.
Call the centre for information on the Walk for Friendship at 403-340-0020 or visit the centre’s Facebook Page.