Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams

Downtown Victoria recreation made more comfortable

Cool Aid’s Pandora Avenue facility receives much-needed facelift

Walking past the Victoria Cool Aid Society’s downtown activity centre on Pandora Avenue one might not notice much difference.

Step inside, however, and the results of a $130,000 renovation project become more clear. In the newly refurbished computer room, three residents are navigating their way around monitors.

“This fits me a lot better,” Shirley Coon, a diminutive, jovial woman who lives in the nearby Pandora Projects, said of the setup.

Not only were the tables built lower to put the screens more at eye level, comfortable rolling chairs were added. While the room is still used for other programs at the centre when not available for computer use, there was no need for a sink previously located just inside the door.

“People used to come in here and wash their socks out,” Coon said. “It didn’t really fit with a computer room. It got kind of musty smelling in here.”

The completely renovated washrooms, featuring shower facilities and all new fixtures, should fill the bill for folks looking to do a bit of spot laundry.

Asked about other changes to the facility, such as the removal of a stage in the gym to create a larger recreation space, Bruce Williams, a resident next door at Cool Aid’s Mike Gidora Place, said he didn’t realize there were bleachers underneath. People doing yoga or playing ball games in the gym will appreciate the fully updated lighting, he added.

“The old lights used to hum and take a while to come on. The new ones are LED and come on instantly. And they’re quiet.”

Invited guests, staff and area residents enjoyed a barbecue lunch Friday in the well-used garden patio between Gidora Place and the centre.

The special event began with the unveiling of a plaque at the front entrance, marking the $100,000 contribution to the project made earlier this year by the Victoria Rotary Club.

Cool Aid executive director Kathy Stinson said centre visitors will notice a more user-friendly space, one she hopes will be more utilized by downtown residents and workers.

“It’s a place where people can get a reprieve from the grind of daily life,” she said.

For centre co-ordinator Donna McKenna, the completion of the renos is a major benchmark.

“When I started with Cool Aid eight years ago I had a long to-do list,” she said. ‘’Now I need a new list.”

With facility improvements made, she’ll focus on program improvements and things like upgrading sports equipment.

Though selling the centre to the wider downtown community is also part of McKenna’s vision, at the end of the day, providing free programs, a place of comfort and a “hand up” for people on the margins remains the first priority.

“At Cool Aid we’ve always taken a harm-reduction approach,” she said.

“We want to help people expand their repertoire of life skills.”

ddescoteau@vicnews.com