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Affordable housing, church, community programs at new Centrepoint development

Architecture features preserved United Church sanctuary

Squamish's new Centrepoint development taking shape — making it the largest community services construction project in the district's history.

The mixed-use building will have 32 residential units, including two fully accessible suites for tenants with wheelchairs, plus studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units — all available at below-market rent. Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS) will move its head office to the new building, from where it will operate more than 40 programs for children, youth, adults and seniors.

"The housing is not restricted. It's for anyone who can benefit from affordable housing," said Estelle Taylor, SSCS communications manager.

The contemporary design of the structure also incorporates the skeletal frame of the sanctuary of the Squamish United Church.

"The (United Church) congregation appreciated knowing that the sanctuary lives on," said Taylor. "The old part is being incorporated into the new."

"It's very complex, it's taken a long time but it's going to enable us to move several of our sites into one building."

The first conversations started about 15 years ago when Squamish United Church reached out to the SSCS.

"It's a very common situation in churches across B.C. — they have a piece of property but the risk is that if the church congregation wraps up, the land just gets sold and chances are it's going to get sold to a condo developer," Taylor said.

This solution allows the church and the community to create something together. The land ownership is transferred, the church continues its presence as the community and its residents can reap the long-term benefits.

Rev. Karen Millard of Squamish United Church said: "When you look at how much more we can create and care for the community, it makes sense."

Millard said this is how churches must face the reality of structures in need of massive renovations or repair, but also how the church can adapt to suit the community's need.

"It felt like we didn't want to be a church that just opened on a Sunday morning," she said.

The funding for Centrepoint is spread out, from local and regional, to provincial and federal. Early on, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation donated about $300,000, just after Squamish Savings donated $250,000.

At a funding announcement at the Centrepoint site on June 3, the federal and provincial governments said they are providing $2.8 million, with the B.C. government providing an additional $9.8 million in construction financing.

"Once the Centrepoint project is complete, families in need of safe, affordable housing will have more options here in Squamish," said Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky in a release.

"The Province is committed to partnering with other levels of government and community organizations across the province to create new affordable housing opportunities that will make a real difference to British Columbians."

It's important that funding come from all sources, said Taylor.

"From the beginning we thought it was important to get funding from all different segments of society," she said.

"We have government support but we also have businesses and support from foundations — that is really intentional."

Taylor said SSCS still has to raise about $600,000. "We really have a crunch with the timing, it has to be done by the time it opens its doors," said Taylor. "But we have a team of committed, passionate, community leaders who are working to raise those funds."