There’s nothing better than a story of the small guy/gal overcoming near-insurmountable obstacles to achieve a great goal.
They are the kind of stories that stick with us long after we witness or hear them; they are the tales that inspire us and push us forward; it is the lore that defines a society – that instills pride and respect and appreciation.
They are the stories that stand out beyond the thick, dark mire of the underbelly of a strained and maxed out world and shine as examples – signs pointing the way to better days and easier nights.
Now, at first glance, you might wonder why the District of Elkford’s recent grand opening of its $6.4 million, 18,000-square-foot Community Conference Centre should be considered a great feat and great story. Take a second and third look.
You will begin to see the route traveled by those central to this story and you will begin to understand the height of the mountain they contemplated scaling when Mayor Dean McKerracher sank his teeth into the idea of buying the old elementary school for greater community purposes.
The old school and property (six plus acres), located directly in the heart of the growing community of 2,500, was the perfect place for a community hall, McKerracher and his council at the time believed.
Then the reality of the cost of the large property became evident. A mountain. Necks strained from looking up; but Elkford’s elected officials and administrative staff, led by Corien Speaker, kept climbing.
And their persistence paid off, though the provincial government’s largesse cannot be forgotten, selling the works to the district for $175,000 – a discount price if there ever was one.
The work of formulating plans for the property was well underway and as happens to all municipal and regional government bodies, great ideas and visions soon become fodder to the blazing guns of fiscal reality. Yes, the district had a thumping nice property with a well-declined old school for use – but what to do when funds for big ideas are hard to come by in small communities?
A year later, an imp from fate’s netherworld acted on behalf of the people of Elkford, arriving in the form of an electrical fire that destroyed the old school. Insurance proceeds exceeded $3 million.
Suddenly, the district had money to work with – a bag of seeds. And from those seeds and the ashes of the old school rose Elkford’s new community centre. This testament to the beauty of building with wood is also an achievement of technology and a blueprint for building with an eye on what is good for the environment, as its design and building components allow for the conservation of energy.
But it wasn’t easy getting the seeds to grow. Early plans for the community centre ranged in the $10 million plus range – too much for a little town.
McKerracher remained undaunted and with the help of Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, the provincial government provided a little more help. Columbia Basin Trust matched the province’s ante with $400,000 and a host of smaller donations began to add up. New plans were put forward and Structurlam Products Ltd. came aboard to work on architect Douglas Sollow’s design, creating a bright, open, smart and wood-wood-wood building that screams ‘the East Kootenay.’
As often happens in stories where the little guy/gal prevails, there is a mentor or a last-minute big time backer who injects the final needed oomph to things and in this story it is Teck Coal. The company that employs much of Elkford’s population stepped forward at the 11th hour with a $1 million donation, keeping the project rolling to completion.
A little guy/gal story has no soul or hope if one cannot identify with them, or feel for them.
In the past couple of years, while Mayor McKerracher lobbied tirelessly for the town he’s been a central figure in since its inception (from doing the grunt work to being its mayor), he’s had a couple of up-close meetings with the mysterious great beyond.
From a near-death brush with pneumonia to life-threatening surgeries, complete with heart stoppages, it is safe to assume McKerracher spent time wondering if he’d ever see this project through.
McKerracher’s gratitude toward the people and organizations who helped him establish this legacy for Elkford is evident in the emotion he shows when he speaks about the hall and the efforts it took to have it built. And those who helped him and Elkford, did so out of respect and appreciation for the mayor and his town.
Congratulations to Elkford, and to its bulldog mayor and administrative staff, on the opening of your Community Conference Centre. There will be countless memorable moments flowing forth from that building and Elkford/Elk Valley residents are going to benefit from it for decades to come.
And in closing we wish outgoing CAO Corien Speaker all the best as she heads to Squamish to begin a new chapter in her career and life. Thanks for the great work you did for Elkford and its residents.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: Community Conference CentreCorien SpeakerDistrict of Elkforde-KNOW editorialElkford's new hallMayor Dean McKerracher
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