A proposal to demolish a portion of the Riondel community centre and renovate the remainder may be put to residents in a referendum this fall.

Riondel community centre referendum planned

Riondel residents are expected to vote this fall on $1.2 million worth of improvements to their aging community centre.

Riondel residents are expected to vote this fall on $1.2 million worth of improvements to their aging community centre.

East Shore regional director Garry Jackman said it follows an open house Saturday that laid out several possibilities for the building, including demolition.

The most popular option, favoured by nearly three quarters of eligible residents in a straw vote, would see a portion torn down and an “aggressive” renovation to the rest.

The community centre, the former J.A. Cochran school, was built in stages between the early 1950s and 1967. It sat empty from 1972 until 1979, when the Regional District of Central Kootenay acquired it from the school district. However, it has never been renovated and retains its original appearance.

In recent years it has been home to many groups, including the seniors society, art club, historical society, and library. Each charges membership fees to cover rental rates set by the local commission of management, which also meets in the building.

Other rooms are used intermittently for bingo or during Riondel Daze. There is also a small gym where community meetings and musical performances are held.

However, some rooms, including one that used to be home to a parents and tot program, are no longer used due to the building’s deterioration.

Jackman said it has numerous problems. “The roof leaks, the windows are old, the floor finish is old, the stucco’s old. It’s just a tired building.”

In 2012, a community task force was struck to look at options for renewing the building or doing away with it. On Saturday they presented four options costed out by Nelson’s Fairbank Architects. Jackman estimated 200 people came throughout the day and 70 to 80 were present for the discussion.

Some supported removing the building entirely and letting the property revert to green space. Another option to renovate most of the building at a cost of $2.7 million “didn’t look affordable,” Jackman said.

However, a third option called for a partial demolition and renovation for $1.2 million.

Residents were issued tags to indicate their first and second choices. Sixty-two placed first choice votes and of those 47 had a second choice. Only two options received first-place votes: 45 wanted to go with the partial demolition and renovation, while 17 favoured full demolition.

“The meeting went extremely well,” Jackman said. “Everybody who needed to say something had an opportunity.”

He said the last year and a half has been “somewhat stressful” but he’s pleased the community seems to be pulling together in the same direction and “couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for a community discussion.”

The preferred proposal would see the two-storey, northern portion of the building retained and upgraded, while the oldest part would be removed along with the gym. The surviving wing would also get a new pitched roof to replace the present flat one.

Groups currently in the part of the building that would be demolished — the library and art club among them — would be moved to the remaining, renovated structure, taking advantage of the lower level, which hasn’t been used in many years.

Jackman said it will probably result in more shared space and common areas than a dedicated room for every group that meets there. “If we integrate activities, it’s not necessarily a negative,” he said. “Why wouldn’t yoga, bingo, parents and tots all appreciate the same space?”

Muriel Crowe, who is involved with the community library, said she was “pleasantly surprised” those at Saturday’s meeting strongly supported the same option she did.

“It was the most reasonable option economically and management-wise. We have a huge building we don’t use much of,” she said.

Crowe, who was part of the community task force, agreed a smaller but “better proportioned” community centre should still have enough room for everyone.

The regional district board will be asked next week to approve the referendum, which would be held during November’s civic elections.

The exact amount to be assessed on property owners hasn’t been determined, but residents from a few kilometres south of Riondel to slightly north of the village will be eligible to vote. The community centre serves a much wider population, however, drawing from Kootenay Bay, Pilot Bay, and Crawford Bay.

If the referendum is successful, Crowe guessed the work would take 1½ to two years to complete.

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