Over the past four years, the Uchucklesaht Tribe Government has transformed a vacant elementary school in central Port Alberni into an award-winning multi-purpose building.
Uchucklesaht purchased the former Redford School in 2018. The property is made up of a cluster of buildings on a parcel on Redford Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. The building was previously owned by the Salvation Army, then the Coulson Group, before being purchased by Uchucklesaht.
This isn’t the first time Uchucklesaht has transformed a vacant building in Port Alberni. In 2014 the government purchased the former Somass Hotel on Argyle Street, tearing it down and rebuilding the site into The Thunderbird, a building with cultural and administrative rooms below and apartments above.
However, Uchucklesaht staff “quickly” realized they needed more space, said Ryan Anaka, director of lands and resources for the Uchucklesaht Tribal Government.
“We knew that the Redford property, being central and fully built, would be an economical device through which we could have a large space that could provide multiple different functions from a service perspective for our citizens,” Anaka said.
Uchucklesaht had a vision that the building would fulfill two functions, Anaka said. This would provide more services to citizens and create an economic generation entity for the nation.
What started as a “blank slate” has now become a multi-purpose building, known as Nucii. The property includes offices, a commercial kitchen, an assembly hall, a gymnasium and even a cold store. Uchucklesaht also recently added a carving tent, and sculptor Hipolite Williams and student Cooper Styan used the space to carve and create a traditional canoe for the Uchucklesaht tribe.
Shortly after the purchase, Uchucklesaht undertook a market analysis and discovered a need for purpose-built office space in Port Alberni. They now rent offices in Nucii at the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
“We were able to work with [Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council] to identify the spacing they would need and we renovated the office space to meet their needs in order to enter into a lease agreement,” Anaka explained.
For the most part, Anaka said, the renovations are complete, though there’s still some landscaping work to do this summer. This will include beautification, signage and lighting of the property.
“We are very proud of the renovations we have carried out,” said Anaka. “We are proud of how we have increased the aesthetic value of the Redford property. It remained relatively vacant for several years. We’ve cleaned it up and there’s new life and activity there, which we’re happy to see.
“The Thunderbird building set the community standard,” added Uchucklesaht Economic Development Manager David McCormick.
And Uchucklesaht is recognized for this investment. They received an Award of Merit at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s Commercial Building Awards for Building C, which is located at the corner of Redford Street and Fifth Avenue. The building is currently leased by NTC.
In addition to Nucii, the Uchucklesaht Tribe Government has been working on a number of other initiatives in Port Alberni, ranging from a sales network and marketing plan for Thunderbird Spirit Water to a new partnership with Cascadia Seaweed. .
Uchucklesaht has also received funding from the Island Coastal Economic Trust and Indigenous Services Canada to complete a new economic development strategic plan. The plan is currently underway, McCormick says.
“The development of Nucii is part of that,” he said. “In terms of how we can build on assets and activities already underway to generate additional revenue for the nation that is reinvested in services and programs for citizens.
The strategic plan should be completed by early fall.