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ORCA Bus unveiling ceremony to take place next month in Powell River

Brand new mobile learning centre to be revealed at Willingdon Beach
ORCA Bus Powell River
SNEAK PEAK: Images that represent the Powell River area, which came through community consultation, will adorn the outside of the new ORCA Bus. A reveal of the new design will take place next month. Contributed photo

Finishing touches are being made on Powell River’s brand-new ORCA (On the Road with Children’s Activities) Bus mobile play-based learning centre before its big reveal Friday, October 11.

“We’ve got it here in Powell River.” said ORCA Bus coordinator Beth Zroback. “It arrived in early September and just finished all the mechanics and interior work.” 

ORCA Bus is a partnership between Powell River and District United Way, and School District 47. The original ORCA vehicle, a decommissioned school bus donated to the group in 2009, was in need of major repairs and upgrades.

Flooring and solar panels have also been installed on the new 32-foot custom-built Blue Bird School bus. The previous bus was run through an inverter and battery system that was plugged in each night, said Zroback. 

“We opted to go solar so it has two solar panels on the roof and it’s attached to the battery systems and they light all our led lights and our water pump for our sink inside,” she added.

To make the bus unique to the region, a community consultation was held earlier this year asking residents for input on what images should adorn the outside.

“We took four image ideas and the community voted on what would represent the community best,” said Zroback. “We took those to a local artist, Sabrina Marie Upton, and she compiled about 16 images for us.” 

From the bears of Wildwood to the sandcastles of Texada Island, images representing different regions of the area will be highlighted on the outside of the bus in a north to south theme, added Zroback.

ORCA Bus is supported by many community sponsors, donations and volunteers, and hosts early learning programs throughout qathet Regional District for families with children ages 0-6 years old. It makes stops in Lund, Saltery Bay, on Texada Island, in Tla'amin Nation and Powell River.

The bright blue vehicle has been a familiar sight throughout the community, providing programs such as StrongStart, inclusion Powell River’s Supported Child Development, City of Powell River Parks, Recreation and Culture Department and the Tla’amin Child Development Resource Centre. The upgraded vehicle finally became a reality thanks to a $137,500 Powell River Community Forest grant.

“The new bus is really awesome,” said Zroback. “But the most amazing part about all of this was seeing all the community players come together. We had companies and individuals who came forward willing to give their time and energy to the project.”

For now, the new bus is being kept tightly under wraps, added Zroback. 

“We’re doing a full reveal,” she said. “There are no images being leaked out yet.” 

Everyone is welcome to attend the unveiling of the new bus at 11 am on October 11 at the Rotary Pavilion at Willingdon Beach. Check the United Way website for any change in plans due to weather.