Project Gateway’s efforts to create the Fernie Legacy Science and Interpretive Centre have reached an impasse. The goal of collecting $55,000 to conduct a feasibility study, in order to move forward with building an Elk Valley educational and interactive facility, has not been met.
Project Manager Andre Labine spent the last few months sourcing out funding and contributions from local organisations, and was only able to receive commitments for $13,000. “The next step was to get some money for a feasibility study,” he explained. “If we were going to spend somewhere close to $4 million on a project of this nature and approach major organisations and foundations to give us that kind of money, we needed to have a proper plan that demonstrated the benefits of being involved in the project.”
The study was not only important to have a clear plan, but also to give residents a chance to give their input into what the centre should look like.
Labine added, “I sent letters, met with many business and organisations, from Teck all the way down, and the answer was pretty well the same. ‘This is a great project, this is a worthwhile effort for the community, however we don’t have the money for a feasibility study.’”
The project was initially created in 2007 to further develop the concept of a Rocky Mountain Grizzly Centre. It was put on hold in 2008 and 2009 during the economic downturn and revived in July of 2010 as the Gateway Project with assistance from Columbia Basin Trust.
Working towards a Fernie Legacy Science and Interpretive Centre, the new project was to be built at the current Chamber of Commerce location. The facility would include several components to celebrate the Elk Valley’s heritage, culture, and traditions, including education on the grizzly bear, coal mining, and avalanche awareness. The proposed site also holds B.C.’s last standing wooden oil derrick, and the centre would have become the home to the Oil Derrick Society, providing information on the evolution of oil and gas exploration techniques.
“I saw some economic benefits, both for the capital project and ongoing full time jobs for working at the centre,” commented Labine. “We were going to work with College of the Rockies to have skilled trades people learning on the job, plus contractors would have been needed to modify the building.”
The facility was meant to serve as a destination, with the goal of having tourists come for the science centre, and spend a day or more seeing everything else Fernie has to offer.
“It would be more than just a science centre,” remarked Labine. “It’s educational and would have had a school program for students to understand coal mining and grizzly bear habitats. It was very much an interactive component with the community.”
“I really believe in this thing, and at the end of the day, it’s unfortunate that it’s not going to happen.”
There is still a possibility that a much smaller version of the facility will be created at the Fernie Nature Centre, currently housed in the existing Chamber of Commerce location. The funding that would have gone towards Project Gateway will now be used to help improve the Chamber of Commerce building.