NORTHWEST COMMUNITY College is embarking upon a renewed search for a use for its $2 million longhouse first opened in 2010.
Originally conceived as the centrepiece for the college’s move under former president Stephanie Forsyth to fully reflect its aboriginal student population as well as the aboriginal population of the region, the institution has struggled since to find an ongoing use for the two-storey structure.
Its second floor has been home to a series of rotating college administrative offices and its main floor open area is only used approximately 60 times a year for college and public functions.
“With such an iconic building on campus, the college would like to see its use increased, to enhance the student experience and alleviate space constraints on other parts of the campus. We have been exploring various ways to do this,” explained college communications director Heather Bastin.
That has included ideas to revive the original intent of making it a place for student use.
But the college has also expanded its thinking by suggesting it might move its library, now located in the basement of its main building, to the longhouse which is located on the western edge of its campus, immediately beside Hwy113.
That would coincide with a decision made last year and already underway to thin out the library’s collection of books and other printed material.
“We are looking at this possibility, but the idea needs to be explored further to make sure that it meets the needs of students. A student-centred campus is our main priority,” said Bastin.
One limiting factor to the college’s ability to rent out the main floor was opposition to using it for corporate events or for events where alcohol was served, she added.
Discussions on the future of the longhouse, which has the official name of Waap Galts’ap, meaning community house in Tsimshian, include the college’s First Nations Council, a group which advises the college on aboriginal issues.
Once the college has finished its plans internally it will then open the discussion to the wider community.
The $2 million cost of the 80 X 50 foot structure made of logs and with conventional building products was financed internally by the college and by other methods including incorporating the work into various trades program offerings.
Incorporated into the design and construction are a number of aboriginal artworks, including crest poles and panels produced in conjunction with the college’s Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art.
Flooring can also be removed in the middle of the first floor open area to reveal a seating well resembling a fire pit.
The college also received federal and provincial grants with the latter concentrating on having the building used by aboriginal students.
At the time of its construction and opening, Forsyth, who was the college president from 2000 to 2010, said the longhouse was the first of its kind for a community college anywhere in Canada.
“Waap Galts’ap is a further significant expression of our commitment to ensuring that the culture and tradition of First Nations students and their communities are valued and respected at NWCC,” said Forsyth at the time.
Construction was not without its challenges, added Forsyth of an eight-month wait for logs of sufficient size to allow a traditional construction approach.