What can communities do with their old schools? Jericho Road Church has discovered a number of uses for an empty and unused junior high school in Port Alberni.
The church will be holding an open house inside of the former Klitsa School this weekend to show former students and other community members what’s happening in the old building.
Mount Klitsa, located on Tebo Avenue, was a junior high school in Port Alberni up until it closed in 2003. Jericho Road Church purchased the empty building and renovations began in earnest in 2010 by a core of committed volunteers. Today, the building is rented by a number of community businesses and organizations—Elite Dance Academy, Ecole des Grandes-Cedres (a Francophone school), Red Cross, Literacy Alberni and more.
“With a desire to reach out into the community, we began to draw different societies into the building,” explained Jan Minton, a member of the church’s leadership team. “It’s been quite transformed. It’s an example of what’s possible with an old school.”
The former library has been transformed into a multi-purpose room that is used for church services, concerts and more. The former band room is now a “youth room” for local youth to gather. The building has been brightened up with the addition of windows—something Mount Klitsa Junior Secondary School never had. A playground was also added this summer, thanks to a grant received by Ecole des Grandes-Cedres.
The old school is also available for rentals, looked after by the church. Gathering Our Voices, an Indigenous youth leadership training conference, held many of its workshops and events at Klitsa last spring. The gym is used by sports groups, including Special Olympics, and after school programs make use of the facilities. Jericho Road Church also partnered with the Kinsmen Club this summer so the old shop room could be used for Soap Box Derby construction.
With a new daycare currently under construction, the old school is “almost full,” said Minton.
“We’ve tried to create places for people to gather and connect,” she explained.
Minton is hopeful about the future of the old school, and she believes there are many possibilities in the other old and abandoned facilities in the Alberni Valley—perhaps even a seniors’ care home.
“It speaks to what you can do with an old building,” she explained. “If we don’t have kids using them for school, what else can we use them for?”
There are a number of other abandoned schools in the Alberni Valley. A former elementary school in Beaver Creek was purchased and transformed into Kackaamin Family Development Centre. An elementary school in Cherry Creek was purchased by the First Baptist Church and is now the site of the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market. The former Redford School was purchased last year by the Uchucklesaht Tribe Government, with plans to transform the property into a “multi-use building.” Gill Elementary School, on Beaver Creek Road, is still empty and unused, as is the former Sproat Lake Elementary School.
“Our community has been up and down over the past few years,” said Minton. “It’s time to rise to the challenges.”
The open house at Klitsa School (5100 Tebo Ave) will take place on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be games, music and food, as well as tours of the renovated building.