Central School sold to Ktunaxa

Historic building will be used for offices, museum, cultural gatherings

Built in 1909

The Ktunaxa Nation has purchased the Central School building in Cranbrook.

Built in 1909, the 43,480-square-foot building was listed for sale for $1.9 million by Tembec in June.

The Ktunaxa’s offer was accepted last week, and the date of possession is October 1.

The Central School building will become an office for the Ktunaxa Nation Council, housing up to 150 staff members between Ktunaxa-affiliated organizations.

“We have been looking for a space that could accommodate our growing organization and its many staff members,” said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Chair.

Ktunaxa Nation staff from offices opposite the Kinsmen Area and offices at the St. Mary’s Band will be moved into the Central School building.

“Currently, we have many dispersed offices in a variety of locations, and this will allow us to consolidate and centralize services, which will promote resource efficiencies, improve communications and allow better support across all the sectors which make up the Ktunaxa Nation Council,” said Teneese.

According to recent analysis, the Ktunaxa injects more than $30 million annually into the regional economy. Most revenue is generated from consulting and professional services, along with various Ktunaxa-owned enterprises, with less than three per cent of core funding coming from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Upon hearing the Central School building was for sale, the Ktunaxa Nation jumped on the opportunity.

“The building is historically iconic and we value the preservation of culture, tradition and heritage and, as such, we accept the responsibility of maintaining the heritage value moving forward,” said Teneese.

“Many Ktunaxa went to school there when it was active, and the building is centrally located in the Ktunaxa Traditional Territory in the lands now known as Cranbrook. The purchase of the Central School building represents a continuum of the history of the Ktunaxa on its lands, and is symbolic of Ktunaxa efforts in moving towards self-governance.”

As well as offices, the Central School building will be a centre for cultural gatherings and will house a Ktunaxa Nation Museum, for which resource planning is already underway. The building will also have a dedicated space for Ktunaxa Elders to discuss and share cultural values and history.

It will be offices for the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Treaty Society, St. Eugene Mission Resort Holdings, Ktunaxa Holdings, Traditional Knowledge Language Enrichment Society, Kootenay Aboriginal Business Development Agency, and FlexiNET Broadband.

Construction of the Central School started in 1909 by Frank Russell of the Fernie Construction Company, and was completed in 1910 by Cranbrook builder George Leask.

It quickly became a local landmark because of its distinctive tower (removed in the 1950s) and the 400,000 Cranbrook bricks used in the structure.

Hundreds of children studied at the Central School right up till it was closed by the school board in the early 1980s.

Cranbrook-based Crestbrook Forest Industries bought the heritage building in 1984 and went about a massive renovation. When Crestbrook was bought by Tembec in 1999, the building was part of the sale.

Last November, Canfor bought out most of Tembec’s East Kootenay operations, including the Cranbrook administration. However, Tembec retained ownership of the Cranbrook property. Canfor leased the building for its administration for a while, but is now moving its reduced staff to a smaller office.

The old Central School was recognized with a Cranbrook Heritage Award in 1985. Today, aspects of its historical significance remain, including the old school bell, the door from the original furnace, floor joists and ceiling.

The attached gymnasium adds 5,412 square feet to the building’s floor plan.

Some minor restoration and repairs to the brickwork will be done immediately, and the Ktunaxa plans to upgrade the heating and cooling systems.

Meanwhile, city council is taking steps to have the Central School designated as a heritage building. At council’s August 13 meeting, Councillor Gerry Warner asked staff to prepare a report on how the city would add the old school to a list of 12 municipal heritage status designated sites in Cranbrook. It is likely to come back before council in September.

According to BC Assessment, the property is valued at $2.7 million.

The Ktunaxa Nation will hold a grand opening of its new headquarters later this year.