Celebrating an accessible centre

·5 min read

Since taking over the 72-year-old school building several years ago, the Juniper Community Centre board members and volunteers, with the support of good friends, have worked tirelessly to improve the structure and make it inviting to everyone.

On Saturday, Nov. 20, the centre celebrated the completion of its latest $26,000 project, which added a ramp and larger deck leading to its front entrance and a chair lift on the inside stairway to its main floor.

"It looks great and has already made it possible for people with mobility issues to come to the centre for meals and to take part in small gatherings," said Juniper Community Centre board president Barb Somerville.

She and other board members and volunteers gathered at the centre on Saturday to welcome and thank those who made the most recent project a reality. In addition to showing the visitors what their donations accomplished, the event provided the special guests with a lunch and tour.

Somerville thanked benefactors on hand for the event, including Woodstock businessman Eric Cummings, owner of E. Cummings Contractor, and his father, Glen Cummings. The elder Cummings, who depends on a walker, could attend the event, thanks to the new ramp and chair lift.

Somerville said Eric provided unsolicited financial support for the project. While not having direct ties to Juniper, the Woodstock businessman said he's long been familiar with the community, the centre, and the project's importance to make the building accessible to everyone.

Jason Limongelli, vice president of J.D. Irving, Limited Woodland Division, and Scott Carpenter, Juniper Tree Nursery manager, attended the event, as they have had many of the centre's celebrations over the years.

Somerville described J.D. Irving, the N.B. business giant with a strong presence in the Juniper area, as a "constant friend" to the centre since its early days.

She said JDI companies, management and employees provided generous financial support, labour and equipment to the Juniper Community Centre in its efforts to update and upgrade the building.

Limongelli said Irving Woodlands are large employers in numerous small communities like Juniper and does what it can to support the people who live and work there.

He said his company has a close bond with the centre's board and volunteers and often uses the building for company functions.

A consultant for the Sports and Recreation Branch of the New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, Kent Kuhn joined the small group.

Somerville said Kuhn proved instrumental in helping the board file applications for available government funding grants. She said the province provided a $10,000 grant to support the project to improve accessibility at the centre.

Somerville said McCain Foundation, another great friend of the centre, contributed $10,000 to the project.

She said the centre's board and volunteers are grateful for the strong support of individuals and businesses over almost a decade. Two plaques hanging in the centre's second-floor main hall attest to a large number of benefactors.

She pointed to the upgraded sound system, large screen television and other items donated by friends of the centre. Looking through the window to the former school's backyard, Somerville said financial and in-kind support provided playground equipment for the old playground.

Beyond the playground, she said, a walking trail through the woods adds to the experience of centre visitors.

Inside the centre, visitors can browse the History Room, full of photos, artifacts and information about the old school and community heritage.

They can shop in used clothing and knick-knack stores. From early spring through fall, the centre serves home-style lunch between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays.

Somerville said the centre would serve its last meals before closing for the season this Saturday, Nov. 27.

Thanks to provincial and federal youth-employment programs, the centre employed four young people to allow the centre to open daily between June and September.

Somerville said the centre is furnished to host various shows, seminars, meetings and special events.

While COVID-19 eliminated almost all the centre's activities last year, it rebounded somewhat this year. It was able to open to the public, but Somerville said the centre maintains COVID protocols, including a mask mandate and proof of vaccination.

Somerville said it was particularly significant welcoming Glen Cummings to Saturday's event, noting he is the type of person who will benefit from the centre's latest project.

She said the board deemed it essential that people with mobility issues have access to the centre's social events, shows, and other assets.

While the ramp and chair lift provides full access to the centre's main floor, the narrow stairs leading to the third floor make it impossible to install a lift. Still, Somerville said, most of the centre's public events and social gatherings occur on the second floor.

In addition to the ramp, larger deck and chair lift, the project provided new front doors to insulate the old building better.

"This is part of our ongoing effort to make this 72-year-old building more energy-efficient and easier to heat," she said.

She said the board previously replaced the back door for the same reason. Other significant projects included a new roof and insulating the basement.

She said the next step is to get mini-splits for the basement.

"Then we will look at what we might be able to do to support the community during weather-related power outages," Somerville said. "Meanwhile, we are having fun and feel very grateful for the support we receive."

In addition to thanking those donating to the project, Somerville thanked her fellow board members and many volunteers who make the centre a vibrant part of the Juniper community. She specifically thanked board member Raymond Rouselle for his pivotal role in the completed project.

"He was our general contractor of sorts," Somerville said.

Joining Somerville and Rouselle as board members are Larry Myles, Barb Myles, Kelly Brown, Marcianne Brown, Rosanna Mazerolle, Lawrence Sweet and Pam Laing.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun

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