Background

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about the experience of visiting an old school that had been decommissioned and put on the market. The family who purchased it was open to the idea that this school could evolve into a community center, with the transition led by a Strong Citizen extraordinaire named Jeff.

Walking through the school last April, I had my doubts. The building has a Walkscore of 19 and would be pulling from the same limited pool of funding, volunteers, and tenants as facilities in more accessible areas. The size of the building was daunting - if a 1000sf apartment in our city can cost over $300/month to heat in the winter, how was this school going to fare? Last year's post elaborates on a number of those concerns and my advice at the time. So how did everything turn out for this empty school?

Well, the next official update I received from this project was via a Kickstarter campaign. They had a new name, look, and most importantly, activity. I was really impressed and wanted to see this momentum continue... but I had too many plates in the air, so my involvement was limited to pitching in a few bucks and wishing them the best.

After a long winter of working from home, I found myself wanting company and a change of scenery. I learned that the Fredericton Makerspace was moving to The Ville (we filmed the move) and wondered if maybe they'd have space for me too. That's the backstory.

Whoa mama - that's some Strong Citizenship

When I came back to The Ville in March, I was converted in five minutes flat. The first thing I saw was 20 or so people from three generations building garden row-covers in a workshop. Even on a weekend the place was full of people happily working on projects, socializing, or playing sports. The new digs for the Makerspace were perfect. Jeff, a much loved coach who has pushed this idea from the beginning and spent every day working on it since, gave me a tour. His magnetism has attracted other members that bring out the best in each other. The place is a flurry of barter, teaching, and healing, for lack of a less cliché word. Nearly every room of the school has a purpose now, most with paying tenants. Below, you'll find an annotated photo collection that highlights the work of Jeff & co. Full disclosure, I'm now helping develop a shared office room at The Ville with the handy-people of the Makerspace because I want to work from there every day.

Over the next weeks as I settle in at The Ville, I'll be piecing together the story on what has made this transformation possible and the challenges encountered along the way. To be clear, there is still lots to be done to make the center more sustainable and optimize the space, but this is a pretty inspiring Year 1 to build on. What I can say right now is that I'm excited to go to work since I'm surrounded by people who are just doing it - taking incremental steps, no excuses, no time wasted, again and again. This building feels like a little city of its own with neighborhood quarters and homebudding in every direction. I look forward to the wisdom that can be unearthed at this small scale which reveals how to bring new life to cities, towns, and neighborhoods as well.

I tip my hat to Jeff, Steven, Elizabeth, Jenny and all the others at The Ville who believed in the vision, each other, and put in the work every day to bring The Ville this far. 

All photos by Gracen Johnson.