It’s business as usual at the Ashcroft HUB; or at least as much as possible, given provincial COVID-19 rules and regulations.
That is the message that Juanita Little, president of the Ashcroft HUB Society, wants to get across to members of the public. Ever since School District No. 74 (SD74) decided in early January to go ahead with the disposal process for the former Ashcroft Elementary School property, which has housed the HUB since August 2015, some people have been worried that the HUB’s normal activities would be slowing down or stopping altogether.
Not so, says Little. “We have no intention of going anywhere or closing anything. We’re providing what we can within the parameters of the pandemic. We’re still open for gym memberships, there are online Zoom classes for workouts, dance classes are still going on within their parameters from the province, and we’re still trying to plan what we can as we can.”
While the popular Merv’s Gym is still open, there have had to be a few changes because of the pandemic. “As soon as we got back to opening up in June 2020 the site couldn’t be unmanned,” she explains. It does not mean a staff member has to be in the gym at all times, but it does mean some new precautions are in place. While in the past users could gain access directly to the gym seven days a week via a fob, they now have to check in at the building’s front office.
“As per the COVID-19 safety plan there are restrictions on the number of people in the space at a time, so people have to register at the front office to let us know that they’re there so we don’t exceed the number of people allowed. We’re allowed one person per so many square feet, but it hasn’t been an issue.”
Little adds that if people are waiting, staff can let users know to limit their workout, and if people want to go earlier than the new opening time they can phone the HUB and talk to staff.
Little says that the HUB plans to go back to offering all its usual classes, and expand on them, as soon as they are able, which is contingent on provincial COVID-19 regulations.
“We have a first aid course coming up, and we’re planning for summer camps and other things, so things are still going forward within the restrictions in place. Last year we did our summer camps online. We’re trying to tentatively plan things moving forward based on restrictions.”
The HUB Society has had a consultation with SD74, and says that the big thing is time to adequately prepare for what might come next.
“We want the HUB and are working towards obtaining the building, but we need time because of the pandemic restrictions. No one knows how long they will go on for. We’ve said we want to continue with the HUB and want to know what that looks like: either an outright purchase or a 10-year or more lease. We want to know how a 10-year lease would change what we’re doing now, and there are no real answers for that.”
Little says that the uncertainty around what the pandemic will look like, and for how much longer, makes a gradual takeover of the property ideal for the society. SD74 could make a decision about the disposal as early as their March 2021 meeting, but the actual disposal process could take up to two years.
“If the general public aren’t vaccinated until September, where are we in March 2023? If it was pre-pandemic and we could do all our workouts and rentals, March 2023 is a good goal, but we’re doing a third [of the business] of what we were, and that makes the process more difficult.”
She says that at the end of the day, the society would like to have the building. “It would be nice if the board could recognize that we want to do this and say ‘Let’s put in a timeline for after the pandemic and see where we’re at.'”
The response from the public in support of the HUB has been “really heartwarming. People are saying that the HUB is vital as a community centre, that they value the HUB and want to continue having what we have for many years to come. People are appreciating all our programs, and stressing that it’s a real community centre that provides a variety of services. Different groups access and utilize it, and it’s nice to see people mentioning a good cross-section of all our programs, not just one particular thing.”
Little says they have heard from Aboriginal partners like the Ashcroft Band, from MP Brad Vis, and from residents of the entire area, not just Ashcroft. “We’ve heard from youth, elders, families, seniors, and our partners, so it’s a good broad spectrum.”
She notes that SD74 is accepting public input until Feb. 19, and that there will be a public consultation meeting about the disposal process from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4. The meeting is open to all members of the public via Zoom, and Little says that the HUB can help people who want to participate but who do not have the technology.
“If you phone the HUB and make an appointment, then you can come in [during the meeting] and have a safe, physical distanced opportunity to take part in the Zoom meeting.”
The HUB can also help people who want to take part in the survey that SD74 is running about the disposal process.
“The survey is online at www.sd74.bc.ca on the front page, and it’s three questions: your name, how to contact you, and what do you propose SD74 do with the building? We can direct you through the process, or you can phone to make an appointment at the HUB and come in; we have the technology to help you access the survey.”
Little adds that the district has said that the importance of the former school property when it comes to education is a consideration.
“The HUB facilitates education for the community in different ways, so we’re still participating in the school education realm even if it’s not functioning as a school. We do spring and summer camps, dance classes, art classes, mosaics, TRU courses like first aid and FoodSafe, and more.”
Her understanding is that SD74 will take the input received by Feb. 19 to the board of education meeting on March 4 and make a decision then. That decision is then sent to the Ministry of Education for approval, but there is no timeline for the process once the decision is made. “We’ve been told it takes ‘a while’, but there are no set guidelines.”
She says that they really appreciate all the support they have been receiving.
“We hope people will continue to voice their support for the HUB. Participate in the Zoom meeting, write a letter, or fill out the survey, and say we want the HUB to continue and for the school district to work with us to make it happen.”