Community members from 70 Mile and South Green Lake are rallying to save the Seventy Mile Access Centre (SMAC).
About 40 community members gathered at the 70 Mile Community Hall Saturday to come up with options for the facility, a longtime cornerstone of the community. The building last month suffered $15,000 worth of damage after several pipes burst during the deep freeze, flooding the washrooms, the classroom that houses the thrift store and the hallway with an inch of water.
“The water pipes broke in four different places and the walls are torn out. The flooring is asbestos tiles and is starting to curl up,” said Sally Watson, one of SMAC’s founders. “Our solution to that would be to cover the asbestos tiles with a layer of plywood because remediation of asbestos is incredibly expensive.”
The flooding comes on the heels of repairs to the septic and heating systems last year. Watson said the roof is also leaky and that an upgrade is needed. The facility, previously the 70 Mile Elementary School, has been used by SMAC for the past 22 years.
In the short term, Watson said they plan to tape off the water-damaged classrooms used for the thrift store and move the items into the gymnasium. Once this is done, she said SMAC will announce its reopening date on Facebook.
A working group was also created Saturday to prepare a presentation for the next School District 27 Board of Education meeting. SMAC secretary Karyn Greenlees said SMAC cannot keep putting money into repairing a building they don’t own. If SD27 wanted, she said, it could kick them out tomorrow.
“We needed the public input to find out what they want us to do and how they are willing to help us,” Greenlees said. “They want us to continue with SMAC because everyone loves SMAC, but we have to look at the reality of it and if it can be done.”
During the meeting Saturday, Watson proposed that the community could work together to purchase the SMAC property from School District 27, which still owns it. This would allow the property to be used not only for SMAC but potentially for the establishment of a senior housing co-op, an RV park or a campsite, she said.
Watson said the 15-acre property is valued at about $130,000 while the building is valued at over $1 million. She said SMAC has around $30,000 in cash to put toward a new project and through fundraising and securing grants, she’s confident they could raise enough to buy the land.
70 Mile House resident Dennis Huber, who has been involved in community housing projects in the past, agreed securing funding wouldn’t be an issue but said this plan would depend on SD27 being willing to sell the land.
“I think SMAC performs good community service but I don’t know if the school board will sell it. If they do, will they sell it to a not-for-profit at an assessed value or would they want to put it on the free market?” Huber said.
Greenlees noted it could be problematic if SMAC took ownership as well because it would be costly to remediate it.
“Then our issue is when this building falls apart how can we possibly afford to dispose of it?” Greenlees said. “It’s a huge building filled with asbestos, it’s going to be really expensive to tear down.”
Watson added she has talked with the TNRD’s director for Area E, Jim Smith, about the importance of SMAC. She said Smith has agreed to help find them potential grants should they need them.
Resident Cecilia Griffiths, who only recently moved to 70 Mile House, said she has fallen in love with the community thanks to SMAC. Griffiths said it gave her a place to make friends and volunteer. She said it “changed her perception of community” which is why she and her husband Paul joined the working group.
“Having a place like SMAC to reuse stuff is both financially a huge bonus when you’re on a pension and better for the planet,” Griffiths said. “We also know seniors do better if they have a community and volunteering opportunities, and SMAC offers that.”
As a retired teacher, Griffiths said she’s not surprised the old school is “falling apart.” She said that obtaining ownership of some kind will allow the community to not only keep SMAC going but improve it.
“It needs to be enshrined in a legal position where people can continue to do the good and grow the good,” Griffiths said. “If we had a functional building we could be doing so much more.”
As of press time, SD27 had not returned a request for comment.