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Resurrecting a community centre

Following a disaster, it was time to rally and support an important community resource

Dwayne Druggett and his sons at the Southend Community Centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia, where they learned taekwondo.

By Dwayne Druggett, Principal, Geotechnical Engineering (Sydney, Nova Scotia)

While often understated, community centres are vital hubs that bring great value to communities and their residents. Community centres enhance the overall health of communities while also shaping our next generation through leadership programs. These hubs offer individuals and families access to safe and productive spaces. It’s easy to understand why community centres, and the programs they offer, can quickly become the heart of a community.

But what happens when a community abruptly loses such an important resource? That happened to the Southend Community Centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on a fateful fall day in 2016.

Founded in 1997 by the Southend Community Development Association (SCDA), the Southend Community Centre was established in a closed school building originally built in 1952. Through the efforts of the SCDA, the facility quickly became a community beacon for the greater Sydney area, offering a variety of programming in health and fitness, the arts, adult education, child care, and more.

Disaster struck on Thanksgiving Day 2016. A massive storm dropped more than 200 mm of rain over the low-lying areas of Sydney in just a few short hours. The damage was significant—not only were residents and businesses left with devastating damage and an uncertain future, the Southend Community Centre was so badly hit that it had to be demolished in January 2017.

Despite those unfortunate events, members of the SCDA, supported by invested community members of all demographics, were determined to find a new home. The SCDA leadership lobbied the provincial government to ensure that the value the centre brought to the community was recognized. Shortly after the facility was demolished, the premier of Nova Scotia announced that the Southend Community Centre could take tenancy of the former Mira Road School building. 

The announcement was a cause for celebration, but acquiring a new facility presented new challenges, including reestablishing the community programming, facility renovations, and operation and maintenance. This is where our Stantec team could lend a hand.

I have benefitted tremendously from the programming offered through the Southend Community Centre. The relationship began six years ago, when I was in a panic to find an after-school program in the 11th hour before my eldest child started primary school. Today, the staff and fellow patrons at the centre have become part of my family. I’ve seen firsthand the success of some of the programs offered, particularly through both of my sons’ involvement in the Island Martial Arts Taekwondo program. They have been mentored by some fantastic individuals, which resulted in an aspiring 9-year-old red-belt and the first black-belt in the family at age 11. Beyond this, the taekwondo program has instilled in my boys the importance of work ethic, respect, control, perseverance, and indomitable spirit, which will serve them well later in life. Their dedication to the sport has also inspired me to work through the belt rank by their side (although I remain the low rank in my immediate family and must salute my 11-year-old black belt).

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But it is not just seeing my own children develop valuable life skills that fills me with pride when I think of the Southend Community Centre. I’ve seen the youth of Sydney gain leadership skills, realize their potential, and develop into future leaders—all through the programs offered by the SCDA. Each year, I witness the impact the centre has had, and continues to have, on community youth, as their positive peer influence is passed down from the older to younger kids. As a parent, I can only hope that my own children will become as confident and motivated as the community-minded individuals I have seen develop at the Centre.

Because I saw first-hand the value of the Southend Community Centre, I knew, in their time of need, I had to find a way to help. I asked our Stantec team, “What can we do?” Turns out, we could do a lot. Before they could reopen in their new location, the SCDA needed an engineering review of their new Mira Road facility’s mechanical, electrical, and structural systems to identify the major operational and maintenance issues. Stantec assembled a multi-disciplinary team to complete the required property condition assessment. And we’re excited to see the grand opening of the centre on October 7.

Without the benefits of centres like this one and the dedicated individuals investing their time back into the community, I shudder to think of the lost talent pool within our local youth that otherwise may not have found an outlet to develop their full potential.

As engineers, we inherently are driven by a passion for our work and guided by our professional obligations; we all share the same core responsibility of protecting the interest of the pubic and the environment in our work. This responsibility supersedes the interests of our clients, our employers, and even ourselves. Having an opportunity to use our technical skills to help a local organization that is so near and dear to our hearts, Stantec’s promise to design with community in mind has never been clearer, and it is something I am extremely proud of.

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When he isn’t practicing taekwondo, Dwayne is busy as a geotechnical engineer. For the past 15 years, he has been extensively involved in community development, commercial/industrial buildings, transportation, and ports and marine projects, as well as site closure on former coal mines throughout the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

I personally have benefitted tremendously from the programming offered through the Southend Community Centre. Today, the staff and fellow patrons at the centre have become part of my family.

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