PORT ALICE — It was easy enough to pick out the happiest person at the grand opening ceremony for this village’s newly remodeled community centre Saturday afternoon.
He was the guy wiping the tears from his eyes.
After several speeches by local and visiting dignitaries, Port Alice Mayor Gail Neely officially opened the centre by cutting a wide, red ribbon strung across the door.
After residents and visitors filed in, former Port Alice Mayor Larry Pepper was asked to unveil the sign above the entrance to the centre’s main hall. He pulled away the dark plastic covering and seemed shocked when it revealed a carved wooden sign that read: Larry Pepper Room
“I can’t think of a more fitting way to mark the end of my political career,” said Pepper. “Although I have some experience in coming back, so you never know.”
Pepper served as mayor for two separate stints and was credited with fighting to keep the village viable between the years when its mill closed and Neucel Specialty Cellulose bought it and restored jobs.
The community centre renovation, nearly two years in the making, gave the aging building a full makeover, including a new roof and flooring and just about everything in between, including several upgrades to bring it to code.
Funding for the nearly $2-million project was provided by federal and provincial grants through the Building Canada Fund, a Towns for Tomorrow Grant, and community contributions from capital reserves/surplus and borrowed money.
In addition, the New Horizons for Seniors Program contributed a grant which provides computer stations and facilities for the new Elder College.
“There’s new heat, new ventilation, lighting and double-pane windows,” said Neely. “Best of all, it doesn’t smell like mold any more.”
The grand opening was held in conjunction with the 2011 Fall Fair, held next door at Port Alice Arena for the first time since 2007.
Visitors got their first glimpse of the changes to the community centre during the drive to the parking lot, where a brand-new welcome sign — featuring a soaring eagle painted by former resident Elena Trevena — was erected.
Inside, more local art is on display. One wall of the lobby is dominated by a 10-by-8-foot mural of the old Spry Camp floating logging camp, originally painted by Judy Hilgemann onto a wall of the centre in the 1980s. With the Gyprock wall slated for removal as part of the renovations, the village had it photographed, the various chips, scratches and screw holes digitally cleaned up, and reprinted on a full-sized sheet of photographic vinyl that was applied to the new wall.
On display at the entrance to the Larry Pepper Room was a Community Quilt created by local artisan Dianne Inglis, who attended the ceremony.
Also attending were mayors Bev Parnham of Port Hardy and Gerry Furney of Port McNeill, Patrick Donaghy of the Regional District of Mount Waddington, manager Tony Wong and Jim Herculson of Neucel Specialty Cellulose and Jonathon Flintoft of Western Forest Products.
Neely, Parnham, Furney, Wong and Donaghy each made brief speeches.