Effective March 28, the grounds and buildings of the old Kemptville College are in the possession of the Municipality of North Grenville. At least, most of it is: approximately 633 acres of land, including 34 buildings, are involved. The lands to the east of County Road 44, known as The Farm, as well as two parcels at the north-west and south-west corners of the College lands, are excluded from the transaction. These lands remain the property of the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO), the government agency responsible.
The financial arrangements are complex, but the official announcement notes that: “No municipal tax payer dollars will be applied to the purchase price”.
This is, in part, because two buildings and a 7-acre parcel of the campus are being purchased by the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), the French Language Public School Board which already has a school operating on the campus. They have paid $3.7 million for their part of the transaction, and the Municipality states that: “This money is to be placed in a municipal reserve fund to be spent exclusively on infrastructure renewal and the development and continued sustainability of the Education and Community Hub”.
In the four years it took to negotiate this deal, the Province required the land to be purchased at market value, which they placed at $11 million. To compensate for “infrastructure deficits and deferred maintenance on the property”, $3.3 million was taken off the asking price. Presumably, this is what it would cost to bring these deficits up to standard in the future. The rest of the negotiated price is detailed in the Municipality’s statement:
“The established purchase price of $7.7 million will further be reduced by [a] $3.7 million amount by way of a forgivable loan with the Province of Ontario, provided that these funds are spent as stipulated in the municipal reserve fund over the next 7 years. The balance of the purchase price will be in the form of a $4 million loan by the Municipality from Infrastructure Ontario. Both the principal and interest costs of this loan shall be incorporated into the operating costs of the Kemptville Campus Education and Community Hub.”
These figures amount to a very tidy zero-sum remainder for the Municipality to pay out of taxes. It does not mean that there will be no further expenses in maintaining the campus should the plan to engage with further tenants fail. When asked about this, North Grenville CAO, Brian Carré stated: “The proceeds from the leases and daily rentals will be applied to the operations and maintenance costs. No municipal staff will be involved with the operations and maintenance at the Campus. In the event that there is not enough revenue to cover all of these costs, funds from the $3.7 million municipal reserve could be accessed”.
At the time of the official announcement last week, the CEPEO was the only partner actually confirmed, although the Trustee for the French Language Catholic Board, Anouk Tremblay, did express her concern that her Board had not been approached by the Municipality to take part in the project, even though they had been the first to lease buildings on the campus for school purposes. Linda Savard, Chair of the Board of the CEPEO, informed the media that her Board and the Municipality “are committed to inclusion and are eager for collaboration with all educational institutions, locally and regionally”.
One concern relating to the CEPEO purchase of 7 acres is the possibility that this part of the campus will be closed to residents for walking, etc. Already, residents have been approached by security guards asking them to leave part of the grounds as they were trespassing. CAO Carré acknowledged to the Times that this was an issue that remains unsettled, but that “As part of our Agreement of Purchase and Sale with the CEPEO, we are negotiation an easement over their lands for the reasons you identify”. However, schools are understandably reluctant to allow the public access to school property, and Mr. Carré notes that “Notwithstanding these efforts, one must keep in mind that their property is a school zone and all applicable regulations shall apply”.
There was not much more that was new in the official announcement made last week. A business plan will be compiled by a consultant at BDO, the company that did the initial report in 2016 on the potential of the College lands. A not-for-profit company will be set up, wholly-owned by the Municipality, with a Board of volunteer Directors to be named by the Municipal Council. There will be a number of permanent, full-time employees hired to run the company, and they are expected to be paid out of revenues from the leasing partners. One person has already been hired on a one-year term to help set up the new operation: Patricia Remillard has an office on the Campus and an e-mail address with the University of Guelph.
What is clear is that, effectively, Kemptville College is dead: the new entity, the Kemptville Campus Education and Community Hub, will be a collection of units, starting with the CEPEO property, rather than a third-level agricultural institution. Horticulture, rather than livestock and dairy, will be the main agricultural component, indicated both by the exclusion of the Farm property and by comments made by the Municipality.
Some of the main buildings on the Campus will be shared or common spaces, and it may be difficult to attract partners to buildings that are not designed for anything other than use as labs, barns, etc.. This will be the main challenge facing the new company seeking to draw tenants to the Kemptville Campus. The 2016 BDO report raises questions in this regard, and the University of Guelph’s calculation that maintenance of the property as a whole costs roughly $1.5 to $2 million annually, makes it imperative that tenants are found quickly, before that $3.7 million reserve fund is depleted.
After taking four years to agree on a price and the area of land to be involved in the transaction, the next steps in establishing what everyone hopes will be a successful and innovative Campus Education and Community Hub need to be taken quickly and efficiently.
There is a long way to go yet, before the taxpayers of North Grenville can be assured that this will not, ultimately fall on their shoulders.