Over the past four years, the Uchucklesaht Tribe Government has transformed a vacant elementary school in the centre of Port Alberni to an award-winning, multi-use building.
Uchucklesaht purchased the former Redford School back in 2018. The property is made up of a cluster of buildings on a parcel on Redford Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. The building had previously been owned by the Salvation Army, then the Coulson Group, before it was purchased by Uchucklesaht.
It’s not the first time Uchucklesaht has transformed a vacant building in Port Alberni. In 2014, the government purchased the former Somass Hotel on Argyle Street, demolishing it and rebuilding the site into The Thunderbird, a building with cultural and administration rooms on the bottom and apartments above.
However, Uchucklesaht staff “quickly” realized that they needed more space, said Ryan Anaka, the director of lands and resources for Uchucklesaht Tribe Government.
“We knew the Redford property, being central as it is and fully constructed, would be an economic device by which we could have a large space that could provide multiple different functions from a services perspective for our citizens,” said Anaka.
Uchucklesaht had a vision that the building would serve two functions, said Anaka. It would provide more services for citizens, and it would create an economic generation entity for the nation.
What started out as a “blank slate” has now become a multi-use building, known as Nucii. The property includes offices, a commercial kitchen, a gathering hall, a gymnasium and even a cold food storage facility. Uchucklesaht also recently added a carving tent, and carver Hipolite Williams and student Cooper Styan have been using the space to carve and create a traditional canoe for the Uchucklesaht Tribe.
Shortly after the purchase, Uchucklesaht undertook a market analysis and discovered a need for purpose-built office spaces in Port Alberni. They are now leasing office space at Nucii to Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
“We were able to work with [Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council] to identify the spacing they would need and we renovated the office space to fit their needs in order to enter a lease agreement,” explained Anaka.
For the most part, said Anaka, the renovations are complete, although there is still some landscaping work to be done this summer. This will include beautification, signage and lighting of the property.
“We’re quite proud of the renovations we’ve done,” said Anaka. “We’re proud of how we’ve increased the aesthetic value of the Redford property. It’s been sitting relatively vacant for several years. We cleaned it up and there’s new life and new activity there, which we’re pleased to see.”
“The Thunderbird building set the community standards,” added Uchucklesaht economic development manager David McCormick.
And Uchucklesaht is being recognized for that investment. They received an Award of Merit at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s Commercial Building Awards for Building C, which is located on the Redford Street and Fifth Avenue corner. The building is currently being leased by NTC.
In addition to Nucii, the Uchucklesaht Tribe Government has been working on a number of other initiatives in Port Alberni, from a sales network and marketing plan for Thunderbird Spirit Water to a new partnership with Cascadia Seaweed.
Uchucklesaht has also received funding from Island Coastal Economic Trust and Indigenous Services Canada to complete a new strategic economic development plan. The plan is currently underway, says McCormick.
“The Nucii development is part of that,” he said. “In terms of how we can build on the assets and activities already taking place to generate additional revenue for the nation that is invested back into services and programs for citizens.”
The strategic plan should be complete by early fall.