Anyone visiting downtown Fort Frances over the past week might have noticed a flurry of construction activity in an old mill parking lot. But not to worry; it’s just the next step in a longtime goal of the United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC).
The construction took place in the parking lot of the old mill building located at 427 Mowat Ave that was acquired by the UNFC earlier this year from a subsidiary of Riversedge Development, who had purchased the mill and associated properties from Resolute. The lot faces Scott Street and UNFC executive assistant Melanie McPherson the construction is just in response to what the parking lot once was.
“We’ve had a lot of phone calls about that,” McPherson said.
“Years and years ago there was a gas station where that existing parking lot is, and there was just a little bit of contamination there that had to be cleaned up. It’s done now. It was a quick easy job.”
The cleanup job is part of the overall plan to turn the building into the UNFC’s main office for its administrative staff and some of the programs they run, amalgamating the two existing UNFC buildings on Portage and Mowat and their offerings.
“In years gone by, every five year strategic plan we’ve had, one of the big things that comes up, probably the number one thing that comes up in all of our strategic plans is our dream to be under one roof,” McPherson said.
“We’re currently working out of three buildings. Yes, it’s not one roof, it will be two buildings, but the majority of our programming will be coming out of the new building on Mowat.”
The two buildings will be the new office on Mowat and the child care centre that is currently being constructed out on McIrvine Road, which is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year as well. McPherson said both the centre’s Early Learning and Head Start programs will move to the McIrvine facility.
The UNFC offers a wide range of programming from both of the current buildings in the downtown core, and McPherson said the move to a new building on Mowat will also help to alleviate some confusion that program participants occasionally encounter navigating the current set-up.
“Sometimes we’ll have service users stop by, and they’ll come to our portage building for services and then get referred to another one of our programs which will be in a different building,” she explained.
“So we’ll have to give them directions, send them down the road, and tell them ‘go in, and whoever you see, talk to this person’ so it will be a lot easier for our service users to access our programming as well as different programming.”
The UNFC has been operating out of the two buildings for a number of years. The main building on Portage was built in 1990 following the tear down of the house that had originally been built on the property that the Friendship Centre had previously been operating out of.
“This building that I’m in right now on Portage, the Grand Opening for it was in 1991,” McPherson explained.
“It was just a little house that was here before, but they needed the space so they levelled that house and then built on the existing spot again, so this building has been here since ‘91, and we purchased the Circle of Life centre in 2001.”
Following the completion of the move, McPherson said the UNFC will put its old assets up for sale.
However, with the clean-up in the parking lot complete, there’s still a fair amount left to do to the new old building in order to bring it up to date and provide what the UNFC needs from it.
“We don’t really have a target date for moving in,” McPherson said.
“Some renovations have to be done to suit our programming and our needs. It’s just going to be interior renovations, so that’s going to be starting shortly – phase one – probably as early as next week. I think we’re probably going to be doing it in three phases, so chances are we won’t actually be moving into the building until at least the winter or into the new year.”
Following the official transition of the property from Riversedge to the UNFC, Riversedge president Justus Veldman congratulated the Friendship Centre on their acquisition, saying they were “happy to be part of such a great accomplishment and congratulate Sheila and her entire team. We look forward to more revitalization projects in the future.”