PORT HAWKESBURY: There was a celebratory mood at the NSCC Strait Area Campus when Diana Poirier, executive director of the Regional Occupational Centre (ROC) Society, announced plans for a major expansion.

“We will be expanding our existing location to include a large store that will support our present social enterprises, the bakery products, and the craft production, with the addition of a new social enterprise, a clothing store,” said Poirier, speaking to ROC members and locals last Friday at the NSCC cafeteria, the site of the announcement.

“There’s presently a gap in services for people with disabilities in support of employment, and the ROC wants to be their employer of choice.”

The expansion will help the ROC Society’s goal of building employment skills and transition to work opportunities for ROC members, said Poirier. The plan was a collaborative effort between staff and members, and Poirier commended them on a job well done.

Joe Janega of Janega Engineering played a key role in drawing up the preliminary plans, and Poirier also referenced the assistance of the Town of Port Hawkesbury and the NSCC.

The mechanical drawings are still being drawn up and, until they are finalized, both the cost of the expansion and timeline are unknown. Poirier said it’s realistic to shoot for the spring of 2018 as an opening date. Funding still needs to be locked down as well, but the executive director said both governmental and private partnerships will be sought.

Also speaking at the event was Tom Gunn, who serves as the Strait Area Campus principal and ROC Society president. He noted that the ROC Centre and the NSCC have a long history. The ROC Centre started in the early 1970s in the former vocational school, located next to the area that’s now occupied by the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre. The vocational school became the Nova Scotia Community College.

“From the very beginning, we’ve always had a connection with the ROC,” Gunn said. “We’re really proud of that connection, and we want to continue it as we move forward.”

Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, the incoming mayor of Port Hawkesbury, was also at the official announcement, and she congratulated the ROC Society on the news.

“These plans are truly exciting, because the ROC Centre does a lot to bridge the gap in our community for all our citizens who have special needs,” she said.

“They do add value at the work place, and I’m really excited by the new plans.”

The 30-or-so person membership of the ROC is excited by the expansion. Speaking on behalf of the membership was Port Hawkesbury’s Bernice Yhard, who spoke of the effect the centre had on her life.

“The ROC means a lot to me, because I learned a lot there,” she said. “When I first went there, I didn’t know anyone who I worked with. But along the way, I learned a lot and I enjoy my work very much. I get along well with everyone, and I do all kinds of different things there.”