Nelson city council is contemplating a major upgrade of the city-owned Civic Centre building.
The project would include the construction of a concourse and elevator on the front of the building that would provide easy access for people and services to all parts of the building including the dance studio, gym, rink and the Civic Theatre.
The concourse was first envisioned by the Civic Theatre in 2015. Board member Marilyn Mint says, “It just makes sense from the point of view of accessibility, and it will help in our programming.”
The proposed project would also include an energy upgrade in the very energy-inefficient Civic Centre, which was built in 1935.
The construction would be largely grant-funded and is part of the city’s attempt to create shovel-ready capital projects to stimulate the economy during the pandemic, along with two other proposed projects: a new library and a new Hall Street pier.
On Aug. 10, city council voted to provide $80,000 from its facilities budget to design the project. The city plans to apply by the Nov. 12 deadline for a grant under the Clean BC grant program, which provides funding to retrofit old buildings.
“We are now looking at how to do that cost-effectively,” said city manager Kevin Cormack, adding that a budget and other funding sources are still being finalized.
He said insulation would have to be added to the uninsulated concrete walls.
“Our architect says heating that building is like heating a shopping cart,” he said.
Former city archivist Shawn Lamb, in the Nelson Daily News on the 75th anniversary of the building in 2010, wrote, “Because the Civic Centre was built before the introduction of the national building code in 1941, many of its systems were not up to code from the word go, and managers up until the present have struggled with and continue to struggle with this fact valiantly.”
Cormack said the building, along with the proposed new library, could be heated with a district energy system, which would create heat either from biomass fuel from nearby forests or from a water-source heat pump in Kootenay Lake, and that city staff are currently exploring these options.
The upcoming construction of two additional screens in the Civic Theatre is already funded, not by the city.
The Civic Centre was built with the intention of putting culture and recreation under one roof, and was considered a big fundraising victory for the city in the midst of the Great Depression.
In an article in the Nelson Daily News on the occasion of the centre’s 75th birthday in 2010, editor Bob Hall wrote that in the 1930s the centre “was hailed as the best facility of its kind from the Lower Mainland to Winnipeg” and became “the envy of small cities across Western Canada.”
The facility cost an estimated $350,000 to build ($2.4 million in 2020 dollars) and government relief programs put many local people to work on the construction.
“In the 75 years since the Civic Centre opened,” Hall wrote, “thousands of young people have taken their first strides on skates, hit their first badminton birdie, watched their first movie, connected with their first baseball or attended their first hockey game at the Vernon Street facility.”