The current Discovery Passage Aquarium building is showing its age. File photo.

The current Discovery Passage Aquarium building is showing its age. File photo.

Discovery Passage Aquarium in ‘early days’ of building replacement plans

Non-profit society planning engagement with key community groups in coming weeks and months

The Discovery Passage Aquarium Society has started planning for a new building — and possibly, a new site — as the existing aquarium approaches the end of its life.

The building replacement project is still in “very early days,” said Naomi Tabata, society president.

The existing Discovery Passage Aquarium — now entering its 10th year of operation — was relocated from Ucluelet.

“When they started to consider a purpose-built facility there, they decommissioned this one,” said Tabata. “We bought it from them, put it on a trailer, brought it out here, and rebuilt it.”

The structure has a finite lifespan. Given the effects of being located next to the ocean, with exposure to corrosive seawater, the clock is ticking.

“When our tech team had a look, they were kind of thinking that we could get five more years out of it,” she said. “Maybe we can stretch it out even longer than that, but we really need to start making a plan.”

A key part of the replacement project will be engaging key community partners, with which the society aims to open dialog the coming weeks and months.

“We envision this really being a fully engaged project if we are going to make this successful,” she said.

Possible partners include local First Nations, Strathcona Regional District, School District 72, North Island College, Rotary, the Campbell River Community Foundation.

“As a group, we all feel that the aquarium represents our community — one of our biggest natural assets — and I think engaging different portions of the community to help us design what the facility looks like and what it offers back, is really going to create some positive relationships.”

Monica Stewardson, the society’s vice president leading the “expansion task force,” said she has been using new Ucluelet Aquarium as case study.

“We’re assessing the size of that facility, what the infrastructure requirements are, and we’re going to help frame what we want to try and achieve here, and what we need to achieve that,” said Stewardson. “Once we have an idea of what we want to build, then we can start looking at the financial side and decide its feasibility, based on projected visitor usage and that type of thing.”

While the project is in its infancy, there are a few things a new facility needs.

One of the most fundamental is bathrooms, which the current aquarium lacks.

Also there is a needs for more maintenance and preparation space.

Another target for the new building is an integrated classroom. Currently, the aquarium uses rooms in the nearby Maritime Heritage Centre for its educational “Explorer Lab.”

“It would be nice to integrate it all into one facility,” said Stewardson.

Having more room for exhibits would be nice too, she said.

Tabata and Stewardson presented to Campbell River city council about their preliminary plans on Feb. 14.

Coun. Sean Smyth said when considering a location for the new facility, the benefits of the aquarium’s current siting, featuring nearby ice cream, the Discovery Passage Pier, and the nearby Maritime Heritage Centre — should be remembered.

“The location has been very successful for my family in the past and for visiting,” said Smyth. “So I commend you on a great job, but I think if you do choose to relocate, let’s think about everything that’s been successful about the location of it right now, and make sure we don’t lose those things when we move.”

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