Another brick in the wall

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The Municipality of North Grenville hired BDO Consulting to prepare a Business Feasibility Assessment Report on their plans for the future of Kemptville College, and that Report has now been accepted by the Municipality and negotiations will continue with the Province of Ontario, the Business Feasibility Assessment Report and the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario [ARIO], owners of the land. The plan centres on three main “pillars”: Education and Training, Health and Wellness, and Economic Development. Although the Municipality advertises that the Report is available on their web site, it was recommended to Council by staff that the full Report not be made public, and only a Synopsis has been posted.

It was suggested by Director of Planning, Forbes Symon, that releasing the full report at this point could undermine the Municipality’s negotiating position when it comes to dealing with potential tenants and the province. Therefore, any review of the proposals for the College are based on the synopsis of the BDO Report that has been released to the public.

On the face of it, the proposed Plan is imaginative and has a sense of vision which is both refreshing and surprising. Those who thought that the College would simply be reopened under the same conditions as existed before now will be surprised at the scope of the plans. Both Forbes Symon and CAO Brian Carré have been working hard behind the scenes to pull together a feasible scheme for bringing the College into its second century as a thriving centre of innovation and education. By tapping into the current focus on climate change and the perceived need to counter its effects, they have tried to position the College at the forefront of research and “climate change mitigation”.

The College is to become a Community Hub, a site on which various tenants will be located to form a mutually-supportive and co-operative network. According to the Report: “The primary tenant of the hub will be a college that provides applied training on climate change adaptation/mitigation and the reduction of greenhouse gases in the agricultural, forestry and water resource management sectors”. Although eight different higher education institutions declined to participate, it is hoped that a college could be established, either by the Provincial Government or by a private initiative. “Preferably, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will support a renewed Kemptville College in order for the intended educational programs to be provided by a recognized Ontario college. Alternatively, a private career college will be formed.”

This is an area of uncertainty, as the Report concedes. “The Municipality intends to have the renewed Kemptville College recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities…The new curriculum is expected to be available in September 2018. If a college charter is not granted, then a private career college will be created. The Municipality will contract external faculty to teach at the college on a fee-for-service basis.” This could put quite a lot of responsibility on the Municipality to establish a third-level educational facility that would need to be accredited before being able to put on courses leading to degrees or certification of graduates.

The recent announcement that a second French language school is to locate on the campus either reflects the hopes of the Plan, or was included in the Plan because that initiative was already in process. “Primary and secondary schools will be sought as potential tenants to promote an understanding of climate change and the internalization of low-carbon practices from a young age. Continuing education tenants will also enable the climate change hub to reach adults that have been out of the educational system.” This precisely describes the schools now moving to the campus.

The BDO Report is generally very positive about the proposed plan for the College, though it does express reservations and concerns about costs and viability. The idea of creating a multi-tenant hub depends on finding interested parties, something the Report says is not guaranteed. “While many potential tenants have expressed interest to the proposed climate change mandate of the venture, the ability to attract first-paying tenants is unknown.”

At the centre of the plan is the erection of a cold-climate solar greenhouse “to promote food security, support the local economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and grow year-round. The space can be used by tenants, local horticulturalists, college students, individuals seeking vocational training, and in the promotion of health and wellness. The greenhouse will also act as a showcase piece to provide an example of the type of low-carbon innovation that can be developed at the college”.

This could be an excellent centre for promoting local food production and innovation, and could form the basis of a local food industry in the area. However, the cost of building such a greenhouse could be a problem. “The capital requirements necessary to transform the current campus into a leading low-carbon innovation hub can also be prohibitive, requiring government funding or the sale of parts of the campus. A number of prospective hub tenants may also find that the cost of changing their current office – or starting operations in a new town or region – is too high to consider.”

The current state of the buildings on campus needs to be addressed, according to the Report, as some of the structures which were designed for specific uses may not be as readily adapted to the new demands. Overall, the cost of bringing the campus to state of readiness may be prohibitive. The Municipality will be setting up a non-profit corporation to administer the campus, and Council, likely on the advice of staff, will appoint the Board for that corporation. The BDO Report says that “Both the municipal non-profit corporation and the college are financially viable over the long-term under certain conditions”. Those conditions include finding the right long-term tenants, sufficient financing to renovate existing infrastructure and build to meet new requirements, as well as finding an accredited educational institution to be at the core of the College renewal.

All of these are possible, and there is no doubt that there is more going on behind the scenes to get the ducks in a row. Both Brian Carré and Forbes Symon have put in long hours and much thought into this plan, and it must be assumed that the unreleased sections of the BDO Report contain more definite financial information and forecasts than the synopsis available to the public. Mayor David Gordon has also worked hard at creating a positive network of contacts at the provincial government level, all of which will be needed, and possibly essential, if the proposed Plan is to reach fruition.

In general, the BDO Report is positive and sees a bright future for Kemptville College. But it is not a rose-coloured view of that future. It contains sufficient warnings and suggestions to balance its optimism, and, once the process moves ahead, there is a commitment that the people of North Grenville will be allowed to express their views on the final Plan. So far, there seems to have been little consultation with local producers, and very little input from residents with both ideas and expertise in local food initiatives and with detailed knowledge of government programs, sources of funding, and potential uses for the College under the new regime. A great step forward has been made, the next steps will decide whether all that work has been worthwhile. The vision is there and the energy is too.

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