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PODS: Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station

PODS: Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station

It’s an ambitious project, but Dr. Michael Jackson, Executive Director of the Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station (PODS) is confident that his team can raise $15- to $20 million to build a unique science and arts facility in Pender Harbour and open the doors in 2020.

Jackson is a founder of the Ruby Lake Lagoon Society, which has raised over $10 million since 2001. PODS already raised $2.4 million to buy the Irvines Landing site in September 2017, and their aim is to build and open the facility by 2020, debt free.

“It’s relatively easy to buy a piece of land,” says Jackson. “The big problem is how do you keep a place like this open throughout the year for years and years to come?”

To accomplish this, he has assembled a team of partners from diverse backgrounds: scientists, business people, educators, artists, First Nations, philanthropists and local residents. They have collaborated to design not just a science centre, but a facility with flexible meeting and performance space that can host conferences, banquets, corporate retreats, live theatre, and concerts.

“Other research stations sit there and don’t do anything else,” said Jackson. “But if you can’t cover the operating costs you’re going to run into trouble pretty fast.”

Plans released this spring show three arched “pods” that give the facility a distinctive look. The complex includes conference space, research and teaching facilities for Simon Fraser University, and public galleries and aquarium tanks. The “Gastropod” will feature a waterfront Mediterranean style cafe overlooking the entrance to Pender Harbour.

Jackson hopes to have architectural drawings and engineering studies ready for a development permit application this fall, with completion in 2020. The short timeline for construction is possible because buildings will be prefabricated in modules and barged in—an important strategy to deal with a fairly remote site accessed by a narrow, winding road.

In creating a “watertight” business case with sustainable revenue streams, Jackson’s team has done extensive research on the market for conference centres. The auditorium has been designed to be as flexible as possible, with retractable theatre seating for 200 people, and partitioning into four smaller rooms. They already have two bookings in hand.

As well as injecting year-round tourism dollars into the local economy, Jackson hopes that PODS will be a gathering place for Pender Harbour residents. “Irvines Landing is where Pender Harbour began,” he said, noting that it was likely the site of First Nations villages long before white settlers arrived in the late 19th century. He is delighted by the support he has received from the community. Over 400 donations were received to buy the land, many from local businesses. “Pender really rallies,” he said.

Nonetheless, the primary mission of the facility is to support top notch facilities for science, including labs, classrooms, and a dive school to train scientific divers.

“The fundamental reason we need PODS is research and monitoring,” said Jackson, explaining that the PODS concept came out of a biodiversity summit held in 2012. “One of the big things that came out of it is that we were not doing anything like enough monitoring, particularly of the marine environment, and there was very little research going on to figure out how we could come up with solutions.”

PODS is not waiting on their facility to get started on the science. This will be their fourth year participating in the Salish Sea Monitoring Project run by the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Volunteer citizen scientists go out in boats every ten days through the spring and summer to take samples and monitor marine conditions.

“I’d say that we’re breaking new ground bringing science and the arts together,” said Jackson. “This is not like an everyday aquarium and its not like an everyday research centre, it’s a whole lot of things coming together in a very
different way.”
Ruby Lake Lagoon Society 604-883-9006.

– Donna McMahon,
Rendering courtesy of Harvest Architecture

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