Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias says work is scheduled to start on a new community recreation centre in Old Crow this summer.
However, there is still no firm funding commitment from the federal government for the project.
Elias said three buildings on the site of the future recreation centre are to be torn down this summer, including the existing community centre, to make way for the foundation of the new facility.
“This is a priority for the community,” he said.
This recreation centre has been a long time coming. Elias pushed for the Yukon government to pitch in money for the project while he was sitting as an independent MLA in 2012.
The territorial government has since committed $2.7 million for the new recreation centre. Elias said the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has also set aside about $2 million.
“Now we’re just waiting for the federal infrastructure funding to come in, and then it’ll be complete,” he said.
But it’s unclear whether federal funding is on its way. Elias estimates that the project is still about $2.5 million to $3 million short, but he wasn’t sure what federal fund might kick in the extra cash. The recreation centre was not among the projects submitted to the federal New Building Canada Fund this year.
Still, Elias said he had an understanding with the previous Vuntut Gwitchin chief and council that construction would start this year. But he said he still needs to discuss the project with Chief Bruce Charlie, who was elected on Monday. Elias said there’s no planned completion date for the building.
The recreation centre is just one of a number of important new infrastructure developments in Old Crow.
The Yukon government has also committed $250,000 in this year’s budget to plan for the replacement of the Old Crow health centre. The existing health centre was built in the early 1970s, with a two-storey addition in 1986.
A new building would “accommodate visiting staff and specialists, additional exam rooms and … will also permit installation of new technology,” according to a government news release.
Old Crow has seen a number of new facilities completed in recent years. A new water treatment plant was opened in 2013 and a new Co-op grocery store opened one year ago. Charlie said the store has been very popular, since it returns profits to community shareholders.
The John Tizya Cultural Centre, built in 2009, and a new research centre, built in 2010, are both equipped with solar panels that help reduce the community’s dependence on diesel. Together, the two arrays are estimated to offset about 1,700 litres of diesel fuel each year. The 11.8-kilowatt array on the research centre is the fifth-largest grid-tied solar system in the territory, according to a spokesperson for the Yukon government’s energy branch.
Elias said the First Nation has also worked on a riverbank stabilization project along the shore of the Porcupine River for the last eight years. The project has involved hauling rocks from a nearby quarry and covering the steep riverbanks to prevent erosion. He said the project has received Building Canada funding.
Still, there are infrastructure needs that have yet to be met in Old Crow. Charlie said many residents are living in inadequate housing, and he expressed concern that the health centre hasn’t been renovated in 30 years.
Elias also said the community’s Anglican church has been out of use for at least three years, thanks to rotten wood in the bell tower and the foundation.
“It’s not safe for people to be in there now.” He said people have been using the John Tizya Cultural Centre instead.
Elias said the First Nation has laid a foundation for a new church just beside the old one, and volunteers have offered to help build it. But he said the First Nation has yet to commit funding for the project.
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