LDS donates church building to establish new arts building in Taber

Soon the Taber Assisting Nations through Global Outreach (TANGO) will be moving into the Taber Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 5314 54th Street as it is being donated to them. A ceremony will happen on Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. to officially hand off the church to TANGO who planned to lend it out to the Society for Taber Arts and Recreation (STAR) when it is not in use by TANGO. Taber Stake President Mark Baldry was able to provide more insight into why this exchange was occurring between LDS and TANGO.

“Our numbers are not getting fewer, but the way we get together and worship has changed over time,” said Baldry. “It’s a very old building that has been renovated numerous times, and it was going to require some significant upgrades to the heating system in particular. It was determined that those would not be done, and so we were looking to mothball the building (preserving a building longterm while it is not occupied). When we got to that point, some of the local community groups, in particular Dr. (Ryan) Torrie and some of the organizations he associated with, asked if the church could consider selling or donating the building to these community groups. We went down that road, looked at some of the upsides and downsides, and the long and short of it is the church felt strongly to leave the building standing — as did our local leadership. We didn’t want it taken down and sold, but rather we wanted it to be a continued blessing to our community.”

With it being a building that has been in the community for over 100 years, the LDS wish to preserve its legacy in the community. With this in mind, Baldry mentioned a concern that came up in their discussion to donate it.

“A couple of groups put their heads together and determined how they could revamp the building into something that would be a blessing to our community and we presented it to the church,” said Baldry. “The church was very keen on that idea, but they wanted to make sure the group had an appropriate plan for the church and it wouldn’t go into somebody else’s name and then become an eyesore to the community. The groups presented their visions for the changed use of the building. Over time it was determined that it would work and the church would be happy to give this building. Those that are going to be using it have come up with what they feel are affordable solutions to the heating and cooling systems in the building — that needs to be renovated — and it became obvious this would be a win-win for everybody.”

As a key member of both organizations who will be utilizing the building after its donation, Ryan Torrie, president of TANGO and STAR, shared his excitement about this donation and spoke on the challenges they have faced when trying acquire a building for the arts in Taber.

“We’re super excited,” said Torrie. “We’ve worked with the Town for years. The arts community in Taber for the last 20 years has been trying to get a permanent home for Taber Players and a venue for musical performances, choir, a place to practice (and have) lessons for music teachers, and having a facility where they can carry on their activities. Around 10 years ago, I was on the advisory committee with the Town of Taber trying to find a way to get a musical facility or an art facility built and just kind of struggled to find a facility. We were trying to get some federal government grants, which we were not able to get, and then we looked at other buildings around town, so it’s been quite a struggle. Then just in the last couple of years, we found out the church was decommissioning that building and was looking to donate it to an arts group to be a community facility.”

Continuing on, Torrie proceeded to discuss the partnership that STAR received from the local municipal governments as part of the church being donated to them.

“When the church approached us about that, we worked with the Town of Taber and the M.D. of Taber — both are eager to cooperate on it as a group,” said Torrie. “We had commitments from the Town to donate $250,000 as an interest-free loan for 10 years, and the M.D. of Taber agreed to a $200,000 grant. The Town of Taber also agreed to help with utilities for the first year, and as a charitable organization, we are able to access waivers on property taxes. Our community board on the Society for Taber Arts and Recreation, we had to fundraise $250,000 to receive those grants from the M.D. of Taber and the Town of Taber, and so we all worked together to put that together. As we did that, the church agreed to donate the building if we have support and the support of the municipalities and communities. It’s been super exciting to have a facility for the community and to work together with the municipalities to put together a plan that would make it feasible.”

Torrie also provided a broad overview of what STAR it’s planning to do with the building.

“We are working with Taber Players — Jocelyn Steinborn is the president of Taber Players — she’s on our board for the Society for Taber Arts and Recreation, so it will be their new home and they’ll be able to store all their props and costumes below the theatre,” said Torrie. “They will be putting on their future plays in the building. We have lots of different community groups that are using the facility. We have plans to work with Lethbridge Symphony and have portions of their symphony to come out. We’re gonna have a karaoke night every month — we will keep the place busy.”

Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times