Invermere council seeks to borrow $5.4 million for new community hall

Invermere is heading towards a referendum on whether on not the district should borrow money to building a new community centre.

Invermere is heading towards a referendum on whether on not the district should borrow money to building a new community centre.

The district’s council gave three readings during its Tuesday, August 13th meeting to a bylaw that would let the district borrow up to about $5.4 million (with a 30-year financing period) to build a new community centre, which council members say would not only replace the current aging community hall, but would also allow for a range of other new functions.

“That’s ($5.4 million) the maximum, we’re hoping with government grants, regional partnerships and even with private donations that we won’t need to borrow all of that,” said Invermere mayor Gerry Taft, speaking after the meeting. “But, for the referendum, we want to know in a worst case scenario if we have to borrow the full amount, where the public sits on it.”

Building a new community centre had the support of all three council members present at the meeting (Councillor Greg Anderson, Councillor Justin Atterbury by phone, and Mayor Taft), but all B.C. communities need approval from local residents, usually in the form of a referendum, before borrowing money.

The district will hold the referendum later this fall. According to Invermere chief administrative officer Chris Prosser it will likely be on either October 26th or November 2nd.

The current community hall has been around for more than 60 years and although it is still functional, at least two reports in the last 13 years have expressed concern about potential structural problems with it, particularly the flooring and the roofing. The flooring issue was dealt with (by the building inspector re-assessing the capacity of the building and making it 229 people, down from the previous capacity of 275) but the roofing issue is more complex and replacing the roof on the existing facility would, according to Mr. Prosser, probably cost as much as building a new facility of the same size.

The idea of a new community centre at the old David Thompson Secondary School site (essentially across the main street from Sobeys) has been discussed for 14 years.

“You keep pouring a lot of money into fixing up an aging building or you finally bite the bullet and spend the money on a new building,” said Mayor Taft, adding the projected costs of the new community centre are in the $4 million to $6 million range. “The old high school site is a bit of an eyesore now, so a lot of people are excited that something might finally happen with it.”

The new community hall will likely have a 10,000 square foot (about 930 square metres) open-space main hall, plus another 6,000 square feet (550 square metres) of other rooms, said Mayor Taft. The main hall would be able to comfortably seat 400 people for dinner and could be used as a banquet hall, for recreation purposes or for conferences. The other rooms could accommodate other recreational or performance arts uses (such as dance, martial arts), could be used social groups or could be used for other things. There will also probably be a staging area for services and catering.

Detailed plans will not be finalized until the district finds out public opinion on building a new community centre in the referendum, said Mayor Taft, adding it’s possible the scope of the project may increase to include a new library space and other options if there’s enough money.

“The concepts are similar to previous plans for the old high school site,” he said. “We’ve really kind of dusted off the old plans and then updated them with new ideas.”

Although there has been much talk about a new community centre, this is the first time the district has sought public opinion on the idea.

Since the proposed new community centre would be of benefit to the whole valley, the district will seek help in building it from other local municipalities, so that costs are not born solely by Invermere taxpayers, said Mayor Taft.