What was once a church will be a building to provide a hub for a range of activities in the growing Cumberland community.
At least that’s the plan according to partners from the congregation of St. George’s United Church in Courtenay, the Weird Church and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Vancouver Island. They plan to collaborate on redeveloping the site of the old United Church building at 2688 Penrith Ave. into the Beacon Project.
The partners also hope to bring in the Village of Cumberland as a partner to help leverage funding available. At council on Sept. 30, Rev. Ingrid Brown of St. George’s and the Weird Church, and Ian Kalina, the executive director for the Boys & Girls Clubs in the region, spoke to council about the plan.
The submission to council outlined the history of the site, stating Cumberland United Church was the spiritual centre of the community for almost 130 years until it closed nearly two years ago. In 2017, the congregation decided not to maintain the building any longer.
The plan for the Beacon is to retain the structure of the church, including the building and spire at the intersection of Penrith Avenue and First Street, but add on to the building to form a four-storey facility, including a rooftop garden. It would be a home for everything from events or programs needing a community kitchen to childcare to youth programs. In fact, a whole floor would be devoted to youth programming. Administrative offices are to be moved to the fourth, or top floor. If it proceeds, the Beacon Project will also include upgrades to the existing space for both worship and arts programs, and have capacity of 300 with chairs.
“It allows for this space to be used for a multitude of events,” Brown said.
The organizers are working with architect Tom Dishlevoy on the additions to the building that will keep the original component of the church and, even with additional floors, will be in keeping with current sight-lines in the neighbourhood. Brown added that the old organ still works and will remain, though it needs a little tuning.
One of the keys will be accessing capital funding available through the Province to create childcare spaces. Initially, this was to be up to $3 million but the amount was just increased to $4 million. The hope for the project team is to create about 60 spaces.
“The reason we’re here is to talk about childcare,” said Kalina. “There’s a real crisis in childcare.”
Kalina and Brown wanted to ask council for the Village to become partners in the project.
“It’s a relationship, and it’s a partnership,” Kalina said. “These relationships, these partnerships are really critical.”
For this, having the Village on side will be important when applying for grant money.
“In order to pull it off, we all need each other,” Brown added.
Council members were particularly happy with the food and youth components of the project, though they will discuss it in more detail at the next meeting scheduled for Oct. 15.
(This story has been edited since originally posted.)