Half a dozen Tl’esqox School alumni are back helping to transform their old school into something new.
Since the end of April they’ve been part of a crew, renovating the old Riske Creek school on Stack Valley Road off Highway 20.
“It’s different to come back to the school,” 19-year-old Micheile Solomon said as she took a break from sanding the floors in one of the old classrooms. “I never thought I’d be fixing it.”
Along with five other young people, also from the Toosey Indian Band, Micheile is learning skills from Dennis Tulloch, a journeyman carpenter who recently retired from School District 27, and Donald Sparks who has been the maintenance manager at Toosey for the last two years.
The plan is to transform the school into a space that can be used for training, recreation, and as a community space for weddings and funerals.
Built in 1976 for the school district, it was a public school until the Toosey Band took the school over.
The band ran it until the end of the 2006/2007 school year.
Band social development program manager Clay Palmantier worked inside the school when it was operational, running a lunch program for the students.
“We made food so the kids didn’t have to go home for lunch. I spent a lot of time in here,” he said.
The project was the brain child of the band’s forestry manager Craig Kennedy.
He drives back and forth past the old school to look after logging in the National Defence’s military reserve and decided something could be done with the building.
“I put in a proposal to offer some training and renovate the building at the same time,” Kennedy recalled.
He secured funding through the Cariboo Chilcotin Aboriginal Training Centre and last week Northern Development Initiative Trust approved a grant of $30,000 for materials through its upgrades for community halls and recreation facilities program.
Any rent from the building will help keep the lights and power on, he said.
An exciting aspect of the project involves economic development.
The library is being turned into a wood shop to train workers to build core boxes for mining exploration companies.
Holding up a sample of a core box, Kennedy explained the core boxes have four, five-foot sections within for geologists to store core samples taken from the holes they drill.
Part of the training will include business management too, Kennedy explained, as the workers will price the supplies they’ll need for glue, staples and nails, create a website and find buyers.
Tolko and West Fraser have committed to sell the band plywood for boxes and to get the project started have both donated some lumber.
It’s been great to gain skills, said 20-year-old Melissa Stieman as she pointed to a huge area outside she’d scraped off in anticipation of painting the building.
“We’ve done roofing, carpentry, and sanding so far,” she smiled.
When the group got started on the project at the end of April, the building was a “mess” and every window was broken, 20-year-old Verne Solomon said.
“Six weeks into the project the old school already looks better,” he said.
The 35-hour work week is keeping Kyle Houde, 24, busy and he said it’s kind of cool all six of them went to school there.
Tulloch said seeing the old school brought back to life while teaching skills to young workers is adding satisfaction to his retirement.
“I did maintenance here in my time,” Tulloch said as he explained what’s been done and what will be repaired.
Looking around the gymnasium, Sparks agreed it will be good to whip the building back in shape.
“I dressed up as Santa Claus for the students many times,” he recalled.
On a Friday afternoon in June, the crew stood outside the school for a group photo under what remains of the old school’s name.
Melissa warned in the very near future the building would have a fresh coat of paint.
“The brown trim is staying but we’re painting the building all teal,” she said.
Kennedy said the Toosey Indian Band basically took over the school in the band’s name, and the School Board was very supportive to make the project happen.
“With the community’s new band and health centre almost ready for staff to move in, spirits are high and everybody’s really happy,” he said.