Arts council eyeing up old fire hall

Organization wants to refurbish heritage building as a cultural centre in Cranbrook.

With an eye on a permanent home, the Cranbrook and District Arts Council (CDAC) has received funding that will go towards the installation of an elevator at the old Fire Hall.

The funding—a $50,000 Accessibility Grant—is one of many steps to help the old fire hall meet code for public use or access, as the CDAC plans to repurpose the building for a public arts and cultural centre while maintaining it’s historical integrity.

The CDAC, in partnership with the city of Cranbrook, has been working towards the restoration of the building, one of only nine registered heritage buildings in town.

Built in 1929, the old fire hall was in use up until three years ago, when the construction of a new facility was finished on 2nd St.

The old location was briefly occupied by Cranbrook Search and Rescue and—while the city still uses a small part of the building—much of it remains empty.

After signing an agreement with the city last spring, the CDAC received $20,000 from the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance to carry out a structural evaluation of the building, which resulted in the removal of asbestos last fall.

“We are moving right along with as much speed as these processes allow,” said Bill McColl, chair of the CDAC building committee.

With the rollover of a new year, the CDAC is busy with grant applications, and is currently well-positioned and has the capacity to turn the old fire hall into a cultural centre.

“There is much work to do and we are committed to see this project through to completion” said Sioban Staplin, CDAC president. “We have long held the vision of a professional gallery and cultural centre for Cranbrook.

McColl said the CDAC is the city’s best bet for a partner for the fire hall.

“We are already running most of the programs such a facility would present and we can do much more in a larger space,” McColl said. “In addition, as a Registered Society, we can bring major grant funds into Cranbrook and save the taxpayer money.”

The CDAC is currently in the final stages of completing a comprehensive business plan that will show the Centre to be self-sustaining within a short timeframe.

“We hope to enter into a lease agreement with the City at a reasonable rate of rent. Our income projections are conservative and our expense estimates are based on solid figures.  We will be operating on sound business practices,” said Staplin.

With it’s proximity to the downtown core, the use of the firehall will complement existing cultural spaces such as Cranbrook Spirit Square and Rotary Park.

“Along with farmer’s markets in Rotary Park, the Studio Stage Door, The Railway Museum, Summer Sounds, Key City Theatre and a proposed museum in the Ktunaxa Nation Government Building, it is our vision to make downtown Cranbrook the place to be for arts and culture.” said Jenny Humphrey, who also serves as a building committee member.

The CDAC has a long history in Cranbrook, first registering as a society under the leadership of Muriel Baxter in 1953, before being renamed and reformed in May 1973. In 2013, the CDAC celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala performance featuring many talented local artists.

Currently, the CDAC administers flow-through grants, provides office space for the Symphony of the Kootenays, and facilities for singers, writers and workshops.  Emerging and professional artists all have the opportunity to show and sell their work in the many exhibits held throughout the year.

The CDAC has assisted many arts and culture organizations in Cranbrook over the years and will now focus their efforts to become the a cultural hub in Cranbrook.  Through advocacy, education and collaboration, President Staplin hopes to bring together and support all of our arts, culture and heritage organizations and to help build their capacity.

“The cultural sector provides significant economic and social benefit to our community – providing quality of life, jobs and spin-offs to many businesses in the area,” Staplin said. “The Cranbrook Cultural Centre will be a major attraction in our downtown core providing a professional level gallery, artisan gift shop, performance area, workshop and meeting facilities that the whole region can enjoy.”