The Town of Ponoka held the grand opening of the Ponoka Civic Building on May 24, celebrating with speeches from officials and a ribbon cutting, followed by a free community barbecue, facility tours and information displays.
The building houses the Ponoka Jubilee Library and the Ponoka Learning Centre (made up of the Campus Alberta Central (CAC) and Ponoka and Rimbey Adult Learning Centre).
Grand opening ceremony
Before the official grand opening began, a traditional smudge ceremony was held.
CAO Albert Flootman acted as the master of ceremonies.
Speakers included MLA Ron Orr, Mayor Rick Bonnett, Garry Wetsch representing Landrex Inc., the building owner, Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye, chair of the Ponoka Jubilee Library Board, Lynne Paul, chair of Ponoka Adult Learning and Joel Ward, president and CEO of Red Deer College and chair of CAC.
Patrick Machacek, vice president of development and strategy, Olds College, was an honourable guest.
“The educational effort that’s represented in part by this building is just wonderful,” said Orr, adding he’s excited to see what other efforts take place in the building.
Paul said, “Ponoka has become a place you can grow without leaving home,” of the new secondary programs being offered through CAC.
The library received grant funding from Ponoka FCSS, Kin Canada, Telus, and the provincial Community Facilities Enhancement Program (CFEP), enabling it to upgrade its equipment.
“This new building will transform the north end of Ponoka,” said Bonnett, saying the more attractive entrance to town is already bringing new developments into the area.
The new town hall allows the town staff to work collaboratively together in the same space better than they have in the last 20 years, says Bonnett. Town council had been without council chambers for four years.
Bonnett also acknowledged the history of the site.
“We can’t move forward without acknowledging that this was the site of the Ponoka General Hospital for many years,” he said.
Many residents were either born at, or had children at, the old hospital.
“It’s a great transformation to turn this location into another site we can cherish for many years to come.”
At the end of the speeches, Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin presented the town with an art piece for the building. The county had a different artwork comissioned, but it was not ready in time for the opening.
History of the General Hospital
Landrex produced a history booklet, written in part by Mike Rainone, on the history of the site and had 500 copies on hand at the opening for guests to take.
The Ponoka General Hospital opened in 1947 and was the first for the Ponoka area.
The busy hospital later added a west wing in 1952 and an operating theatre in 1961.
At one point, the facility had a 50-bed capacity and a staff of 60 nurses and eight doctors.
When the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre opened in the 1980s, the general hospital was sold and used for laser research before standing empty for many years.
Fort Ostell Museum was on site with artifacts of the old General Hospital, including an old doctor’s bag, a baby weigh scale, a bed pan, a bassinet used in the hospital circa 1946 and a bill of sale for a baby born in 1952 — the cost to the parents after government subsidy was $9.50.
Sandy Allsopp, museum manager, says that if you “block out the cost of the building and the fact we don’t own it,” that it’s an “incredible” building for the community.
Considering the old hospital was disintegrating, she said, “I think in the long run this was probably the way to go.”
Background on the project
In October, 2015 Landrex was presented with the opportunity to work with the town to assess the potential of redeveloping the historical five-acre site on 50 St. and 57 Ave.
The company and the town looked into the possibility of renovating the old hospital into a new medical centre but the building’s condition was too poor and the idea was abandoned in favour of developing the civic building.
By early 2016, Landrex had secured the agreements to go ahead with the project.
The building was designed in cooperation with the building’s tenants, namely the town, CAC and the library.
Construction began in February, 2018 and was completed in October, 2018.
“We intended to preserve its history,” said Wetsch in his speech. “We consider this a legacy project.”