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Close up: Giving history a facelift

Kelowna Sunrise Rotary Club members have been busy painting the exterior of Rutland Centennial Hall throughout this past week. - Wade Paterson/Capital News
Kelowna Sunrise Rotary Club members have been busy painting the exterior of Rutland Centennial Hall throughout this past week.
— image credit: Wade Paterson/Capital News

If you have driven out of the Rutland Centennial Park parking lot, a wooden sign overhead has likely caught your attention.

"Owned and operated by the Rutland community."

The message signifies 73 years of self-reliance—survival without dollars from city hall; therefore, it also represents pride.

But even the deadliest of the seven sins can't deny that the property has had its share of problems.

Rutland Centennial Hall has struggled to find—and keep—user groups.

The park is used, but not to its full potential; instead, dandelions and long blades of grass overtake a viable baseball diamond and potential soccer pitch.

Until recently, a leaking roof had all but dampened the spirit of the Rutland Park Society.

Thanks to several fundraisers over the past year, that roof has now been replaced. Thanks to a local Rotary club, the hall has been given a facelift. Thanks to Rutland May Days' increasing popularity, the society's top fundraiser is bringing in some much-needed revenue.

And thanks to this recent swing in momentum, the park can still be owned and operated by the Rutland community—for the time being.

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The Rutland Park Society was formed in 1939. The group gathered funds and purchased the property at 180 Rutland Road North to create a park space that the community could call its own.

"They came together realizing that they needed a central meeting place where their kids could play sports and develop close ties with the community," says Chris Brown, vice-president of the Rutland Park Society.

The property developed over time and the society created a field, a temporary structure—where the hall is now—and an outdoor swimming pool.

"They didn't have any amenities out here. They decided that it was too far to take their horses down to the lake to go swimming, so they built the swimming pool," says Tom Graham, president of the Rutland Park Society.

In 1967, Rutland Centennial Hall was built in true Rutland Park Society fashion—completely by volunteers.

"They did get a couple of federal grants for the building because it was a centennial project, but it was mainly built by using volunteer labour and materials," says Brown.

Since those days, the pool has been filled in and today the hall is used regularly for weddings, trade shows, day care, dance classes and other special events.

The property is also used for the Rutland Flea Market, which runs on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"Other groups are always coming and going," says Graham.

"We just keep looking for new people to work with. Can we use more? Of course, we can always use more."

Along with struggling to book users, the condition of the physical structure has gotten worse over the past four-and-a-half decades.

This hasn't gone unnoticed by the park society—to cover the tab on their current wish list of improvements, it would cost over $300,000.

Desired improvements to the park include repairs to the field, ball diamond, lacrosse box and bleachers, as well as the erection of a new concession building, storage garage and shed for electrical poles.

Indoor upkeep includes the replacement of windows, a heating upgrade and miscellaneous repairs.

The priciest request is $100,000 for sound and electrical equipment.

"Our speakers are about 25-years-old; in the electronic world, that's ancient," says Graham.

But as intimidating as the list of improvements might seem, the Rutland Park Society recently checked two massive jobs off the list.

Over the past year, the society has been fundraising to fix the hall's leaking roof. Thanks to their effort—and the help of other fundraising events—the hall has a brand new roof.

Many within the society likely thought that the roof improvement would be the only major upgrade of 2012; however, Kelowna Sunrise Rotary Club had other plans.

Sunrise Rotary held a "Boot Scootin Barn Dance" on March 26 at the Rutland Centennial Hall as their annual fundraiser.

But instead of just thinking about itself, the club also pledged part of the proceeds to go toward giving the centennial hall a facelift.

“We thought it would be good to try a different venue and make sure that we attached a cause along with the fundraising initiative,” says Kelowna Sunrise Rotary Club member and event coordinator, Laurel D’Andrea.

“In the past we’ve always just done a general fundraising event. By attaching the centennial building onto the cause. . .we opened it up to the public more.

“It’s a good thing to let the community know what it is that we do in the community as Rotarians.”

And they didn't just simply raise money.

Last weekend, several Rotarians got their hands dirty helping to prepare the hall for its paint job.

Throughout this past week, they also lent their services to help paint the building’s exterior and, in turn, check a significant job off the Rutland Park Society’s to-do list.

The new roof and paint job come just in time for the 53rd annual Rutland May Days celebration.

"I'm so excited," says Brown.

"When people come to May Days next week, they're going to see basically a brand new hall."

According to Graham, May Days is the most important long weekend of the year for the Rutland Park Society.

“Our one major fundraiser for the year is May Days. Over the years it died off, then the last few years it’s grown quite a bit,” says Graham.

Graham says the event brought in approximately 24,000 people last year. He credits the improved attendance to the inclusion of West Coast Amusements and quality entertainment.

This year May Days will have a few new twists.

“The biggest inclusion this year is that we’re going to have lawn mower racing,” says Graham.

“These are some pretty souped up machines. It’s going to be a little bit noisy for six hours on the weekend while they’re running around, but I think it’s going to be lots of fun.”

The four-day festival will also feature a parade, craft show and an intercultural stage put on by the Intercultural Society of the Central Okanagan. Ten food vendors will also be on location.

“We’re the cheapest sort of fairgrounds in the Okanagan. If you compare us to Armstrong or Rock Creek, there you spend about $10 or $15 just to get in the gate. We ask you to put in $2 per adult—that’s really not a significant fee," says Graham

“We should probably charge a lot more for the entertainment that we have there.”

Graham says that putting together the May Days parade is another time-consuming task.

“I’d like to say everything is sweet and rosy, but it takes a lot of work to do this sort of thing,” says Graham.

Although May Days will bring a flurry of activity, afterward the hall and park will go back to its regular usage, which Graham doesn't think is sufficient.

"We could do so much more with the area—it's a six and a half acre property, in the centre (of Rutland). Over the years we've looked at different things like convention centres and what else to build there to maintain and get more funding. None of that's worked out.”

When asked whether or not he could ever see the property changing hands to the city, Graham enters into the longest pause of the conversation.

"Is it possible that (the city) could own it someday? Yes," says Graham.

"I'm not going to discount what their plans would be in the end and what ours would be. We hope we'd be able to make sure it remains an open space in some fashion.

"I'd like to see us take it through a full 100 years before anything like that; we've worked so hard at it."

Brown fears that if the city ever took over the property, Rutland would lose a piece of itself.

"If we turn the park over to the city, we won't have a park," says Brown.

"We do it on a budget of less than $100,000 a year; there is no way that the city could afford to operate the park at that price.

"Since 1939 the park has been community owned and operated. . .it's one way that Rutland keeps its identity."

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com

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