An Aboriginal training institute is aiming to host large-scale conferences in Kenora by renovating space at a former high school.
Seven Generations Education Institute received almost $1.2 million from FedNor in early July to begin work this summer to upgrade more than 30,000 square feet at its Manidoo Baawaatig campus and create a modern conference and technology-communications centre.
The gymnasium will be converted into an auditorium with retractable and permanently seating for more than 340. A mezzanine level will be built with view to the existing gymnasium stage to place more seating or use as casual space to view an event.
The entire space will become a fully-equipped lecture hall for multimedia presentations.
At the rear of the hall, two break-out rooms will be created for smaller groups of 20 to meet during a conference.
Wayne Zimmer, director of apprenticeship programs, envisions this multipurpose space being used for trade shows and job fairs for both students and companies in town.
“It also fits well with what we plan to do with our culinary programming,” said Zimmer.
The institute currently offers a one-year hospitality program, but to scale it up to a two-year program, a larger dining-type hall is needed to include culinary management.
“We can expand our offerings. This facility gives us the capacity to do that with the expansion.”
Zimmer said it’s not a substantial gutting of the building, but a retrofit by eliminating the 1950s-era boys and girls change rooms, and making better use of the space.
The technology centre will be set up as a videoconferencing room for distance education opportunities.
More funding announcements related to this project are expected to follow shortly.
Project tenders were expected to close in mid-July with construction starting by August.
He expects the completion of renovations by the end of next May.
Seven Generations Education Institute is a not-for-profit organization with campuses in Kenora and Fort Frances. It partners with colleges and universities to provide Aboriginal-specific programming.
Zimmer said this project and other building upgrades have been talked about ever since the institute moved into the sprawling former Lakewood High School in 2013.
More than $3 million in renovations and upgrades have taken place inside the 76,000-square-foot campus.
The building’s fourth floor was renovated a year ago to accommodate the Keewatin Patricia District School Board, who originally sold Seven Generations the high school.
The second and third floors contain various other educational, Aboriginal and social agency groups as tenants.
Although the City of Kenora is proceeding with its Event Centre concept, Zimmer said their conference centre should benefit the entire community by having the capability to handle large events and conferences of more than 200 delegates.
With a heavy push on promoting the trades, Seven Generations have also hosted training programs for outside agencies, including Workplace Safety North, which is helping developing the new workforce for Kenora Forest Products with diversity training, first aid, and health and safety programs.