Indigenous group shocked by step towards demolishing Nanaimo gym

Indigenous group shocked by step towards demolishing Nanaimo gym
WatchTillicum Lelum offered services in the Franklyn Gym for nearly 20 years until a fire in 2018. It learned this week the building's heritage status was removed for potential demolition.

Nanaimo City Council has removed a heritage designation from a downtown gym which will allow it to be demolished.

The Franklin Street gymnasium and auditorium have been part of Nanaimo since it was built in 1922.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District owns the building and asked for the designation to be removed following a fire that heavily damaged it nearly two years ago.

“Unfortunately the cost of refurbishing it and bringing it up to building code is far beyond what we are able to cover with the insurance monies and so the question became can we demolish the building and look to use that site for potentially a different use,” said Charlene McKay, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school board chair.

On Monday Nanaimo City Council, at the request of the school district, unanimously approved the removal of the building’s heritage designation so the district could demolish it.

“When you look at the state of the building, you consider the fire, the damage, the quality of the structure, the fact that its school board property I think it was a relatively easy decision for council,” said Leonard Krog, Nanaimo’s mayor.

But the move has caught Tillicum Lelum by surprise. Before the fire, the Indigenous support group leased the building for almost 20 years.

“I was really shocked because we hadn’t been notified. No one said anything. We put a lot of money in that building ourselves and it does address the needs of a community that no one else provides,” said Grace Elliot-Nielsen, the executive director of Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre.

“It was quite a surprise and a shock. We’re feeling quite emotional about it. It means a lot to our Indigenous community especially off-reserve,” said Inga Cooper, Tillicum Lelum’s associate executive director.

Tillicum Lelum had spent over $75,000 on the building and used it for numerous programs, including ones that combated a growing gang problem. The organization says it gave many a place that felt like home.

“A lot of them are very mad. They’re still processing it too and they want to know what they can do,” said Pedro Corbuz, who worked as a program coordinator while services were running at the Franklin Street Gym.

Those at Tillicum Lelum are hoping a plan to fix the building can still be found.

The school board’s chair says the decision to tear it down hasn’t been made and this was just a step to allow that possibility.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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