Bowden has launched a million-dollar fundraising drive to “Raise the Roof” for its long-awaited new community hall, a project that has been in the minds of town and rural residents for over a decade.
The cost of the new community hall, which will be located on 3.2 acres of land at the north end of Bowden along Highway 2A (27 Avenue) and 22 Street, is estimated to be $1.5 million.
The new 10,750-square-foot facility will replace the antiquated seven-decade-old Bowden Lions Hall along Main Street, an ancient military building moved piece by piece in 1948 from the area’s Elementary Flying Training School that was administered under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) during the Second World War.
“There are people around here who remember it when it was moved in. It has served the community very, very well, but it is tired. We talked a lot about refurbishing it and maybe giving the old girl a bit of an upgrade, but we realized fairly quickly there were too many structural issues,” said Mabel Hamilton, president of Bowden Cultural Enhancement Society, noting the new hall will be able to seat 350 for dinner theatres -- twice the capacity of the old hall, which is still in use but with an undecided long-term fate. “We really believe there is a need for that (new hall) in the community.”
Hamilton said while the new modern hall will be a place of honour for milestone events such as graduations, weddings and funerals, it will also be a valuable venue, complete with a commercial kitchen, to host trade shows, dinner theatres, a farmers market and seasonal events. The intent, said Hamilton, is to expand the usage to include more and more community groups, such as FCSS, preschool, 4-H, minor hockey and dance clubs. She said the new structure could also be used as a disaster or emergency service building.
“We have the Fall Supper and that has been going on for 70 years, and we want to continue doing those kinds of things, and we want to continue having the volunteer suppers,” said Hamilton, noting there is enough room on the 3.2-acre site for up to 30 sites to accommodate RVs and campers. “We have to make sure that it is affordable and that people in the community can use it for a reading room, or maybe the library will go there, or maybe we can have just meetings.”
Despite the talk in the town and district over the past 10 years about getting a new hall to serve the community and region, it has only been in the last couple of years the initiative has gathered steam. Last July 16 during the annual Bowden Daze, members of the society gathered at the new site and held a shovels-in-the- ground ceremony, a celebratory moment to mark a new beginning.
“We have done some dirt work. We are working to move forward with some footings,” she said of the preliminary construction at the new site. “We are not going to start the project per se until we have the money, but we have enough money at this point to make people understand we are serious.”
While the community hall will cost about $1.5 million to complete, the society already has $500,000 to start, including $300,000 from Red Deer County, $150,000 from the Town of Bowden and another $50,000 through private sources. To raise the remaining $1 million during its Raise the Roof fundraising campaign, society officials are seeking different levels of sponsorship, from the $500 level of Friends of the Hall to the $10,000 Foundation level. They are also hoping to take advantage of matching provincial and federal grants that will help achieve a $500,000 fundraising goal by next spring, which is also the target to begin construction.
“We are going to do a community awareness blitz in the town, and start fundraising that way and we already have some people who say, ‘Look, we believe in your project and we are willing to step up,’” said Hamilton, adding the society has a plan for the first year of operation. “We are really working hard on making sure that we can hit the ground running and that we will be able to keep it open for a year until we actually get the kind of usage we believe we can get.”
In the meantime, society members are also in the early planning stages of organizing a gala at the end of November, an event that could include a keynote speaker and generate more dollars towards the ambitious community hall project.
For more information on the Raise the Roof initiative and how to help with fundraising, contact Hamilton at 403-224-2353.