Original Published 09:59 Apr 21, 2022

By John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kaslo’s potential as a high-tech centre got a big boost earlier this month with the announcement of nearly $1 million to finance renovations to the Kemball building. 

“We’re really happy,” says Dan Nesbitt from the Kootenay Lake Innovation Centre (KLIC) of the $979,000 Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program grant. “It’ll be easier for us to go to partners on the basis of this grant and say ‘the building has a future, and the programs hosted there have a future because the building does.’ That really helps.”

The money will go to the building owner, the Village of Kaslo, to spend on much-needed renovations and improvements to the Kemball building. The historic courthouse has housed KLIC for several years. But the idea of creating a modern, innovative business co-working space that would attract high-tech customers to the village has floundered on the reality of working in a building constructed the year before the Titanic sank. 

Nesbitt says the building is showing its age with unreliable heat, drafty windows, structural concerns, shabby interior, and lack of accessibility.

“It hasn’t had upgrades in quite some time,” says Nesbitt, who helped write the successful application to CERIP, a post-COVID recovery fund set up by the Province during the pandemic. “The heating system in the depth of winter doesn’t sometimes keep up, and the air conditioning in summer doesn’t really work that well. So we have heating/cooling issues, and in general it’s a little bit shabby and needs some love inside.

“So it’s nice to be able to stabilize the building infrastructure with this, and to have a plan to go forward with it.”

The Village said the grant would enable it to move ahead with much-needed renovations on an “amazing” community asset. 

“We are so happy and can’t wait to see this important heritage building become revitalized,” said Kaslo Mayor Suzan Hewat. “The Village bought the Kemball to ensure its preservation, but it’s been a struggle to keep it up. Now we know its future is bright, as is Kaslo’s.” 

The Kootenay Lake Innovation Centre has been working to take advantage of the community-owned high-speed fibre-optic network locals have built in Kaslo. The village and surrounding area are served by a network of fibre-optic cables operated by the Kaslo infoNet Society (“KiN”), that terminates in the basement of the Kemball. There, a server cluster offering cloud storage is connected to a fibre-optic backbone running under Kootenay Lake and connecting with the rest of the world.

The Village’s COVID Recovery Committee identified the Kemball as a source of economic development through the Innovation Centre, but it took a last-minute application to the CERIP program by the BC Rural Development Centre’s former communications director Randy Morse to get the ball rolling (see ‘Kaslo council hears last-minute pitch for Kemball Memorial Centre grant,’ Valley Voice, November 26, 2020).

“The BC Rural Centre is pleased to have been able to help the Village in accessing this new infrastructure funding and looks forward to continuing to assist the Village,” said Gordon Borgstrom, former Executive Director of the BC Rural Centre. “Projects like this can help stimulate and accelerate new economic growth and diversification opportunities in small rural communities.” 

The Village will manage the renovation work and the grant monies. They’ll likely hire an architect and scope out the project before sending it out to tender. The work is expected to take a couple of years to complete.

This item reprinted with permission from Valley Voice, New Denver, British Columbia