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Programs at Capilano United church in limbo

The demise of a century-old North Vancouver church has left several community programs praying for promised land. Capilano United Church silenced its services in June - just two months after celebrating the house of worship's 100th anniversary.
Church
Kids and community members who are attend programs at Capilano United Church are hoping the programs can be saved.

The demise of a century-old North Vancouver church has left several community programs praying for promised land.

Capilano United Church silenced its services in June - just two months after celebrating the house of worship's 100th anniversary.

"The congregation is getting quite old, there's no children's program here. .. there's no younger families coming in," said church administrator Kim Dolmage.

Until June 2015, the Capilano United Church building is under the care of the B.C. Conference, the provincial arm of the United Church of Canada.

But after that, many of the programs run out of the church are either facing cancellation or are in jeopardy - including scouts, cubs, daycare, dancing and cooking programs, and Sunflower Preschool.

"The school and the environment is very dear to us," said Sunflower Preschool educator Susan Sherwin.

The school - which has an annual enrolment of 50 students - will have to close next June unless alternate arrangements can be made.

The news comes just three years after Sunflower Preschool invested $17,000 to reinvent the space in the church building. The community donated the majority of that money, according to Sherwin.

A group of 45 volunteers, many of them church parishioners, gave up their summer to transform what was a compartmentalized classroom into an open, well-lit space.

"We can all sit together around one big table," Sherwin said. "Our new classroom has become a model teaching environment."

After 40 years of paying a "nominal fee" to use the church, Sherwin said she's not sure where the school could move.

"If it's a high rental situation it isn't something that we could entertain because we are a nonprofit," she said.

Sherwin recently spoke about the school's uncertain future to district council.

"I have contacted many people across the North Shore: school boards, recreation centres, developers, and landowners and I have not been successful in finding any alternative location," she said.

The church has not submitted a redevelopment application of any kind, according to district Chief Administrative Officer David Stuart. "The property itself is zoned as public assembly so any attempt to change its use would require council approval," he said.

The district is planning to meet with the United Church to find a way for community groups to use the space over the next year, according to district communications officer Jeanine Bratina.

There is a lack of affordable preschool and daycare on the North Shore, according to Pemberton Heights Community Association president Colin Metcalfe.

"The church gymnasium has become our de facto community centre. Sparks clubs, girl guides, aerobic classes,. .. zumba classes, the Christmas craft fairs are all on the verge of losing their gymnasium. We must find a way to keep it," he told council.

At least one program formerly run out of the church has found a new home.

Flying Bows, a fiddle class for young children, has got new digs at St. Martin's Anglican Church on Windsor Road.

"I know it's not so easy for the others," said the program's proprietor Belinda Scott.

Having a preschool, daycare, and various programs at the same site was very convenient, she said.

"It kind of saved parents juggling work and running to activities," she said. "I only need a small classroom. .. My heart goes out to the daycare centre and the preschool that need a big facility all week long."

The congregation first gathered in a North Vancouver schoolhouse in 1914, eventually erecting the church in 1925 and an education centre in 1961.

"The congregation and the church as a whole would like it to be sold to another church, but at this time we cannot say for certain this will happen," said caretaker Doug Bentley.

Despite church attendance sliding from 200 faithful each week to fewer than two dozen, administrator Kim Dolmage said the closure was a surprise.

"When I got the job last June I actually didn't know about the closing and apparently neither did anybody in the neighbourhood. .. They kind of kept it tight-lipped, which is unfortunate because now the neighbourhood is very upset about it."

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