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Article by Dara Hill August 30, 2018

Owners of the St. Michael’s Church property in Merritt are one step closer to selling a chunk of their land to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to be used as a community centre.

Merritt city council approved a rezoning application to subdivide the St. Michael’s Church property, at 1990 Chapman Street at the regular city council meeting immediately following a public hearing on Aug. 28.

The rezoning will subdivide the property into two parcels, allowing the owners to sell the existing church on the proposed north parcel to the CMHA so it can be converted to a community centre. The existing community hall on the southern parcel would then be used as a church.

Christa Mullaly, executive director of the CMHA Kamloops branch, was at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The program we operate is a psycho-social rehabilitation program. We work with adults in different life domains through their recovery from their illness,” she said. “So, our goal is to help folk reintegrate through social mechanisms into community, help them learn life skills as well as to find them employment.”

Mullaly explained it has been challenging for the organization to find a permanent home in Merritt over the years.

“Consistency is critical to someone’s wellness, especially when they’re in recovery from mental illness,” she said. “It’s challenging, and a little unsettling for folks when we move all the time. So part of our messaging that needs to be really clear and strong for community is ‘We have a permanent space’ and ‘Come see us — we will be there for another 106 years we hope.’”

Retaining the historical integrity of the building is a priority of the CMHA, Mullaly said, and they plan to add plumbing, a kitchen and a couple washrooms to the space.

“We have found a preferred contractor that will be able to preserve every piece of wood that we need to move within the building,” she said.

Mullaly explained her goal is to have construction get underway within the next couple of months, and have the community centre operational before this year’s snow begins to fall.

Audrey Campbell, minister at St. Michael’s Church, spoke in favour of the rezoning application at Tuesday’s meeting and addressed councillors’ concerns that there is currently no parking on the lot.

“What people may not know [is that] Canadian Mental Health has been doing their program out of the church hall [already]. And there’s been no change, no complaints — they are excellent tenants,” she said. “The parking will not be an issue — it’s downtown, and a lot of people don’t have cars.”

Councillors also raised questions about the potential of the community centre becoming an overnight shelter, which the CMHA does operate in Kamloops.

“There is a need for [overnight shelters] in Merritt, but what’s there to say two years from now you decide to do that and we don’t have the parking?” Said Coun. Linda Brown.

In response, Mullaly said they have no plans to use the space as an overnight shelter.

“We have some very good partners who are providers here in town that do that work already,” she said. “Having said that, when folks attend shelter, they’re not driving there.”

The motion to rezone 1990 Chapman Street from institutional and public use (P3) to central business (C2) was carried by a vote of six to zero at Tuesday’s meeting. Coun. Mike Goetz was not in attendance.