Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre renovation update

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, March 7 2017

Through a job creation partnership project, a program funded by the federal and provincial government, the Gabriola Arts Council (GAC) has been working since the beginning of October 2016 to upgrade the interior of the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre, and is in the process of adding new buildings to the property on South Road for office space and storage.

Michelle Benjamin is the Executive Director of GAC. “We hired four people to do renovations and construction work. They’ve replaced all the wiring in the building, stripped walls down and put in insulation, and put up a new ceiling, new hardwood maple floors and new drywall. They’ve painted new trim on the doors and windows and other moulding, and have installed an art hanging system and a three-part lighting system, including ambient light, directional track lighting for art shows, and a bar for performance lighting.”

Benjamin says what’s left to do is the interior insulation in the attic, and then once a permit is approved the back of the building will be torn off (where the single washroom is) and work will be done to rebuild that washroom and install a wheelchair accessible washroom. 

A log cabin has also been donated by the Island School of Building Arts. “They will donate the modules of the structure that their students will build on site, then they will dismantle it and bring it to our site. We’ll have a foundation that will be built on our site to make it seismically approved,” says Benjamin. 

The log cabin will be situated in the southeast corner of the parking lot, and will be converted into a one-room office and storage space. Once the log cabin is built, the office space will be decommissioned [in the current building] and the office space will become storage for tables and chairs. Work will start on that part of the project in April, with the building crew doing the foundation, windows, doors and roof, and bringing the log cabin up to weatherproofing and seismic standards and moisture sealing to get it up to permit building code standards.”

The third piece of the project is the storage garage, which is under construction in the lower parking lot. It measures 12x18 feet and has a roll-up garage door, and will provide storage for the Theatre Festival ticket booth, sandwich board and risers, all of which are scattered around the island. “It won’t be heated, but it will be dry,” says Benjamin who has been working on grant writing for three years to fund this extensive renovation. “To have the end in sight is just fantastic.” 

The funding came from the BC Ministry of Social and Economic Development, the BC Arts Council, the Department of Canadian Heritage through Western Economic Development, the Nanaimo Port Authority, and the Lions Club donated funds for the accessible washroom.

Speaking to the legacy of the building for Gabriolans, Benjamin says it was built in 1928 as one of the original one-room school houses on the island. In the 1950s it was sold to the Women’s Institute, who also ran the first museum and library out of it. 

“It’s a building with a lot of Gabriola history in it. We’re stewards of this piece of Gabriola heritage. Lots of care has been taken in the renovation process to honour the building’s history and not to mess with the bones of the building. At the end of the process it will still look like a heritage building and we’re doing the work to ensure it’s still here for another 100 years. They’ve also replaced some foundation beams because they were rotting.” Benjamin says that was the biggest structural problem and there was also insect damage underneath.

Benjamin says they expect the same kind of usage for the building such as hosting community groups for monthly meetings, artists workshops and music and theatre performances. “It has great acoustics and we tested it out this weekend for the first art show, Squared - The Art Show. All the work is being done to ensure the building is useful. We will also have a new projector coming and we’re about to purchase a new sound system through a special grant from the BC Ministry of Culture that will be available for everyone to use, and for other community groups to use off site.”

Because the building connects with a big part of Gabriola history, Benjamin emphasizes that the work being done is for the community at large. “The work crew is taking so much pride in their work because each one knows what they’re building is the legacy for the island. We do intend to repair the outside of the building but that will be the next phase and is not in the current plan or budget.” That part of the process involves weather sealing and replacing the cedar shakes on the outside of the building while maintaining the heritage look.

“The other piece of this is that we’ll be finished at the end of July and now we can turn our attention to what’s next for the Arts Council. Our big goal is to develop a new strategic plan. We have a home and the structure has gone through a renovation and now we need to reinvigorate the Council to see what our big vision is for the next five years and see what we can do for the community. It feels incredibly exciting to think beyond the construction project and [toward creating] a high functioning community Arts Council.”

Benjamin says Hazel Windecker, who went to elementary school in the building, is the current President of the Women’s Institute. 

Benjamin says she is so excited to have the women come in. “People come in and say it’s amazing.”