Unique partnership bears fruit 

Squamish's CentREpoint social services complex combines the United Church and SSCS

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Open and opeRAting Lois Wynne, executive director of Sea to Sky Community Services, at the Centrepoint in Squamish.
  • Photo submitted
  • Open and opeRAting Lois Wynne, executive director of Sea to Sky Community Services, at the Centrepoint in Squamish.

At Centrepoint, one little boy is all tuckered out and quietly sleeping on a mat in his daycare.

Outside, his playmates explore their new playground, filling the air with happy squeals in the way that only preschoolers can.

Centrepoint is the new $13-million home of both the Squamish United Church and Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS); it opened in late July on Fourth Avenue in Squamish after years of planning and fundraising.

When needed, the walls of the daycare are collapsible, and the space is absorbed as an extension of the Squamish United Church, which is housed in the auditorium next door.

Down the hall in the complex, there are offices, meeting spaces and access to social housing. There is an enormous sense of utility and of community, punctuated by that fresh paint smell.

Along with the church, Centrepoint houses SSCS' 160 staff under one roof for the first time; the church originally donated its large lot on Fourth Avenue for the project in 2012.

The small, century-old church that originally stood on the lot could not be saved, but its wooden roof and beams have been incorporated into the new structure.

"The move, it was something! But it worked out pretty good," said Lois Wynne, the executive director of SSCS.

"We had already collapsed one (SSCS) office. We had two main locations downtown and the early learning centre, which was in Squamish's old courthouse. And we had two childcare spaces in portables in Squamish Elementary School."

SSCS runs 40 programs in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and surrounding areas — from food banks and early-learning programs to counselling and special needs support.

"We do service the corridor. We have offices in Whistler and Pemberton. We see Centrepoint as a corridor building," Wynne said.

"We're hoping people will look at it as a place to gather. The United Church does, too.

"We would never be where we are without them. It was their foresight. They came to us with this plan. They thought bigger, and we will be eternally grateful. There is no way we could have done this alone. Never."

This collaboration is why the building envelope is so flexible, she added.

"Like the daycare, the church can also be transformed, for large gatherings like a concert, or a play, or a workshop. And that's what they want," said Wynne, explaining the moveable walls.

Along with offices, meeting spaces, a commercial kitchen and a garden, there are also 32 condo units for use by people with developmental challenges and as social housing.

Asked how she felt after years of fundraising and construction, Wynne said it had been a long journey but a fantastic one. The complex, she explained, had been redesigned several times.

"Originally, the SSCS and the church were going to be separate buildings with a walkway. But the architect suggested there was a better way to use space together," Wynne said.

Centrepoint's public meeting rooms and larger spaces will be open to community groups, and the SSCS is currently working on its policies for for-profit group rentals.

Wynne said the SSCS had raised about $1.6 million towards the complex (the church raised a similar amount, not including the land donation), but fundraising continues.

Very much a local effort, donations have come from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, Squamish Savings, and the District of Squamish while BC Housing has also come on as a partner.

"We are still accepting donations.! We'd still like to contribute a further $300,000," Wynne laughed.

"But I think we're in a good place."

The SLCC will pay down its mortgage with savings from the $200,000 it used to pay in rent.

Wynne said they encourage visitors wanting to find out more about what is offered.

Centrepoint is being showcased at the Please Be Seated Gala for Squamish United Church on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 6 to 10 p.m. A tour of the building will be offered, along with dinner and entertainment.

Tickets are $125 each or $900 for a table of eight.

For more information on Centrepoint and SSCS services, visit www.sscs.ca.

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