Long abandoned, derelict and contaminated with mercury, the Blue Barn building in Squamish is one step closer to being a safe place that could be used for communal activities.
The provincial government has given Squamish a grant of $231,250 for environmental inspections at the Blue Barn building.
The Blue Barn was built in the late '90s as a treatment plant for water contaminated by mercury. It was decommissioned after a few years, but the equipment and the building is still believed to be contaminated with mercury.
As part of Squamish's ambitious waterfront plans, the district wants to give the building, after purging it of mercury, to the arts community. In April, the district applied for a grant through the provincial Brownfield Renewal Funding Program, with the aim to remove the water treatment machinery and assess the level of mercury content in the building.
The grant will only cover the cost of an environmental investigation of the site, said Virginia Holden, manager of the Brownfield Implementation program at the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Holden said Squamish has until March to inspect the site. She said the district can apply for another grant for further inspection if the situation so warrants.
"We are trying to work with landowners to convert derelict sites into socio-economic development sites for the community," Holden said.
She added that of the 30 projects that were submitted, 12 were selected. The Blue Barn project made the list because it contributed to community sustainability and created a community asset.
Trevor Dunn, a planner at the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation said work is already underway to inspect the equipment and site for mercury contamination. He said it's been more than two months since SODC initiated the inspection process and it will get a further boost from the grant.
"This is exciting news for us. The remediation work could be completed in October, of course contingent on the SODC moving ahead financially with the project," he said.
Dunn said the Blue Barn building might be torn down in a decade or so for something else, but until then it can be a great asset for the community once the mercury has been removed.
Squamish Arts Council president Kristina Egyed said the news of the grant was a "step forward" in making the Blue Barn building viable space to be used by community groups.