Gareth Jones has undertaken one of the biggest renovations jobs in Revelstoke.
If all goes to plan, he’ll be the new owner of Mountain View Elementary and he plans on turning the heritage school building into a combination medical clinic/distillery/restaurant/personal residence.
“The history and the heritage of the building is a huge attraction to me,” he said. “The layout lends itself very well to what I want to do. It has very high ceilings, a beautiful structure and I think it will work exceedingly well for the sort of thing I’m trying to do with it.”
The Revelstoke School District announced the sale of the building to Jones on Friday, Aug. 19, at noon. It took the district several tries to find a taker, and after several months of negotiations, they revealed that Jones submitted a successful proposal.
“Gareth has a real appreciation and respect for the heritage building, and a vision for its use that will ensure public access to the facility,” the school district said in a news release. “He has experience with heritage conservation, and through his proposal demonstrated a clear understanding of the scope of work involved.”
Jones’ made the news in Revelstoke earlier this year when an application he made to convert the Mount Begbie Brewery into a distillery went public. At the time, he declined an interview because he hadn’t finalized a deal to buy the building. He’d already had one deal to build a distillery in Salmon Arm fall through.
Over the course of the year he was active on Twitter, posting periodic updates showing distilling equipment being shipped over to Canada. But he wouldn’t provide an update on when or where he’d be opening his distillery.
On Friday, Aug. 11, he Tweeted: “We are so #excited. There’s a big announcement going to be made a week Friday. We can’t wait to share what we’ve been doing! #revelstoke.”
Finally, the plans were revealed last week.
Jones is a native of England and there’s some family history in the distilling business. He did a turn in the British army and worked in the food service industry before emigrating to Canada and settling in the Shuswap. Finally, after some thought, he enrolled in a master distilling course in Kelowna and decided to make his dream a reality.
The concept for the Jones Distilling has been known since the start of the year. The plan has been to craft high-end gin, vodka and whiskey. There will be a tasting room and eventually a bar and restaurant, all to be built over time.
“As with wines and beers, people are looking for something more than a cookie cutter product,” Jones said when he first announced plans for a distillery in Salmon Arm last year. “That’s where craft wineries and breweries have gained huge traction. I’m looking to spread that into the spirit market.”
The medical clinic is something new.
“It was always just a case of finding the right location for that,” he said. “With good luck we’ll get support from council to the town and we’ll be able to get bring more doctors to the area.”
He said his research shows there’s a need for more doctors in town and he has the support of a clinical director who’s also a family doctor to make that part of the project happen.
Before Jones gets started, he needs to sign a Heritage Revitilization Agreement with the city. The sale is contingent on that happening. Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development services, said an HRA is a special type of bylaw that applies only to the building and not the underlying land. “They’re a good tool for ensuring that heritage buildings maintain their character,” he said.
If and when that goes through, Jones will begin looking inside the walls to see what exactly needs to be done. The first goal will be to bring the plumbing, electricity and gas lines up to par.
“From there, we’re going to systematically, phase through phase, work through the building,” he said. “The most important thing to me is we pay due deference to this historical building. We’re going to take our time.”
Mike Dragani, who chairs the City of Revelstoke’s heritage commission, said their main priority is to see the exterior of the building preserved.
“If it gets a good owner that wants to have a contemporary modern use and they want to respect the outside, then that’s the ideal thing,” he said.
Jones said he wants to promote the history of the building by including the names of former teachers and collecting historic photos.
“We’re going to make sure we get the right people involved and we have to get it right,” he said.
The school district sought proposals for the Mountain View Elementary building on three occasions. On the first two occasions they were looking for someone to develop the whole site, but did not receive any adequate proposals.
This spring they issued a new Request For Proposal for only the heritage school building. One offer came in, which was followed by negotiations between Jones and the school district over the summer.
The purchase price has not been revealed. School district superintendent Mike Hooker said it would be made public when the sale is finalized.