Multi-use facility recognized for innovation in Saskatchewan Municipal Awards

Submitted photo The new multi-use facility in Birch Hills has placed second in the 15th Annual Saskatchewan Municipal Awards.

The Town of Birch Hills received recognition at the 15th annual Saskatchewan Municipal Awards for the innovative way they transformed their vacant Co-op building into a new multi-use facility.

The Town tied for second in the competition with Churchbridge. Birch Hills acting Chief Administrative Officer Danielle Vandale said she hasn’t been around since the start of the project, but it was still important to her and to the town.

“Any facility that promotes the inclusion and activity of community members is a good thing for us, and especially for our seniors who will be using the centre as their social space,” Vandale said. “We know with this pandemic, social networking has been extremely limited for the aging population.”

The Birch Hills project took the vacant Co-op building and transformed it into a multi-use facility that includes a library and a space for public events. Vandale said the new building has helped bring diverse groups closer.

“The fact that it was both Federally and community funded, including donations and many hours of volunteerism, it speaks volumes for positive fiscal action in our community,” she added. “Not only is it beneficial to our current residents, but it also adds yet another space that promotes growth in our community by attracting more visitors to our town.”

Vandale said that finishing second for the project was great for Birch Hills. She added that when she came from her job in Chitek Lake she really appreciated the volunteerism that it took to complete the project.

“I am thrilled to see what the future of Birch Hills looks like in terms of not only drawing new faces to our town, but also adding something contemporary and modern-day to our growing community.”

The Town of Birch Hills and town administration put together a feasibility study to use the vacant Co-op building as the new community hall, library and meeting room before submitting an offer on the building in 2015.

The committee was formed and under the leadership of local project manager Duane Lowe. The group came up with a plan to meet the needs of diverse user groups. The facility is named the Duane Lowe Community Centre in recognition.

“Duane graciously donated his time to create a floor plan that would get us pointed in the right direction and to most effectively use the space,” Vandale said.

The Library aspect was important as the Wapiti Regional Library has been part of the community for over 60 years. The library was relocated to the multi-use facility allowing for increased area and additional features for users, including computer stations and an interpretive centre.

“Community members have a sense of pride in this building and the diversity of people and user groups who are going to use this space to its full potential,” Vandale said. “Our seniors have renewed enthusiasm for the drastic change in space sparking a light for creativity possibilities that before were not available to them.”

She explained that the project was the work of many community members including Lowe, town council, the Lions Club, who have since gone dormant because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Various electrical companies and contractors also contributed.

The interior of the building was completely rebuilt with electrical, heating and plumbing as well as new walls and flooring. The exterior of the building was also updated and modernized.

The old senior resident building they previously used was built in 1920, and would have required significant costly repairs and upgrading to meet additional space in order to provide a broader range of services.

“It is a space for everybody and it’s workable so that it can be self-sustaining which is kind of our goal,” Vandale said. “It’s a modern building. I want to have functions in there. It’s super neat and it’s not far from PA, it’s not far from Melfort, if families want to come from those places.

“Can it build our community and our economy? Probably. Anything like that does in terms of infrastructure.”

The Saskatchewan Municipal Awards celebrate the excellent and innovative practices of Saskatchewan’s municipal governments. This year’s winners have revitalized their communities through transformation and restoration.

The Birch Hills project was one of five winners in the Saskatchewan Municipal Awards. In Municipal First Place was Riverhurst Wetland (Village of Riverhurst) whose winning practice was restoring a local wetland that will provide both environmental and economic benefits to the community.

Placing second and tied with Birch Hills in Municipal was Churchbridge Community Campground whose winning practice was developing the community campground into an asset that not only provides economic benefits through tourism but offers increased recreational opportunities for residents.

In third place was Jean Louis Legare Regional Park Expansion Project (RM of Willow Bunch No. 42 and Town of Willow Bunch) whose winning practice was undertaking a water and sewer project to support the expansion of the local regional park and enhance tourism and economic opportunities for Willow Bunch and the surrounding region.

The winner for regional cooperation was South Saskatchewan Ready (RMs of Poplar Valley No. 12, Hart Butte No. 11, Willow Bunch No. 42, Bengough No. 40, and Happy Valley No. 10, and the Towns of Rockglen, Willow Bunch, Bengough, and Coronach). The winning practice created an action team to find ways and funding to diversify the local economy and mitigate the impacts of the transition away from coal fired power dependence.

The winning projects were selected by the Saskatchewan Municipal Awards Committee who reviewed 13 nominations, submitted on behalf of 19 municipalities.

Each year, the awards committee is made up of partners from the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA), New North, the Rural Municipal Administrators’ Association of Saskatchewan (RMAA), the Urban Municipal Administrator Association of Saskatchewan (UMAAS), and the Ministry of Government Relations (GR).

This year’s nominations included many examples of community involvement, partnerships and volunteerism. It was great to see the significant progress and achievements in the communities as a result of their council’s leadership and cooperative approaches,” former Humboldt Mayor and committee member Malcolm Eaton said in a release.

The winners will be celebrated at the SARM Annual Convention and Tradeshow on March 15 and the SUMA 2022 Convention and Tradeshow on April 14. Both events will be taking place at the Queensbury Convention Centre in Regina.