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Expanded Alder Rec Centre eyed to accommodate Humber College

June 17, 2015   ·   0 Comments

Orangeville Council has agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Humber College in order to pursue the possibility of expanding the Alder Street Recreational Centre to better accommodate the school’s goals.

Although Town Staff and members of Humber College have been discussing this new long-term partnership for over 24 months, the MOU is the first step towards making the discussions actionable.

“Humber has a wonderful partner in the Town of Orangeville,” said Laurie Rancourt, Humber’s Senior Vice-President of Academics. “MOU discussions have been ongoing for many months and it’s clear that we’re both committed to enhancing the Alder Street campus for students, employees and the community as enrolments continue to grow. We look forward to signing the MOU with the Town of Orangeville and confirming our long-term partnership and plan for the college in Orangeville.”

The discussion was not without concerns from members of council, as the withdrawal of Humber’s original plans for a campus on Veteran’s Way are still fresh wounds for the town.

The partnership between the Town and Humber began in 2005 with plans to build a campus with a 2,000-student capacity on the Veteran’s Way site, but after a number of hiccups and issues, the college officially handed back the land in 2013, leaving the Town of Orangeville with a $3 million property that they had bought and on which they continued to pay interest.

“I was part of the council that borrowed $3 million for the land, and Humber said they were definitely going to build, then decided not to,” said Councillor Gail Campbell. “All the while we paid interest on money borrowed for you.”

Another concern highlighted by Councillor Campbell was that the Alder Recreation Centre was built to service and meet the needs of the Orangeville community, but with Humber occupying the rooms on the upper level, this has not been possible.

In a later interview with Joe Andrews, Director of the Orangeville Campus, he explained that the college works hand in hand with Town Parks and Recreational Staff to accommodate all requests for use of the rooms, but that there has not been a high demand for use thus far.

“Town Staff have been clear that people are not banging on our doors to make use of the facilities during the day,” he explained. “Humber is always ready to accommodate any requests that come through, as part of our partnership with the town and the community. The facility is not off-limits during daytime hours.”

He added that regarding the previous situation with the Humber lands, a lot of factors were involved, many of which were beyond the Orangeville Campus’s ability to control.

“When the plans were presented to build the campus, we had a Senior Administrative team that looked at things very differently, with both the economical and political factors,” explained Mr. Andrews. “We had a new President in 2008-2009, and there were changes in plans and thoughts. Those in charge felt it was clear in the evidence that the original plans weren’t possible for the college to fulfil.”

He said that with the most recent change in leadership, the new President and CAO, as well as Senior VP Laurie Rancourt, there is a much more experienced background in dealing specifically with campuses located in small, rural communities.

“The big difference now is that we have key players that get it,” said Mr. Andrews. “They both come from a regional campus setting in rural communities, and understand the difference in both how they exist and how to go about growing them and ensuring they have the strongest impact on their communities.”

The MOU discussed at Council on Monday will not guarantee an expansion, but once signed will allow for a feasibility study to be conducted to review the benefits to an extended presence for Humber College in Orangeville, as well as whether that expansion should occur in the Alder Street building. The feasibility study, along with the expansion, would be part of a $10 million investment by Humber College. The goal is to increase the student enrolment capabilities from 450 to 600 students. While enrolment is current at just over 200 students, with the increased program offerings coming to the campus, that number is expected to grow.

This September, the Orangeville Campus will be adding their General Arts and Science (GAS) program to the roster, which is a course that allows students to study an array of subjects without being tied to a specific program path.

“There are many students who, at 17 years of age, are unsure of what they want to do or what they want to study,” said Mr. Andrews. “A lot more teens are taking a victory lap at high school since the elimination of the Grade 13 program. The GAS program provides an alternative, where these students can study at a college level and obtain a significant number of transfer credits for College and University while they try to figure out what they want to do.”

The college has offered the General Arts and Sciences Program for many years with a lot of success. One of the benefits to having it offered locally in Orangeville is that the students would not have to incur the costs of going to a further away campus while continuing their studies.

“The program really provides the opportunity for students to leverage post-secondary education in order to further pursue the post-secondary education of their choosing once they are ready,” said Mr. Andrews.

If the feasibility study proves in favour of the Alder Street expansion, the plans would include the development of a gymnasium, which would also have public access for users such as for senior classes, indoor dry land training for local sports teams and more.

“We want to look at ways to maximize our partnership and build a facility that will be beneficial to both parties,” said Mr. Andrews. “Across the country, some of the most successful colleges are the ones in communities where the facility is part of a partnership serving a multitude of users.”

Despite their promises however, Councillor Campbell has made it clear that at this point, she does not see the benefit in expanding the Alder Street centre, and has said both in Council and on Social Media that she will not support the expansion. In a further conversation with Councillor Campbell on Tuesday, she explained that the facility was designed to provide recreational uses for the community, and expanding the college, as she sees it right now, does not fall in line with that.

“I’m always open-minded when it comes to these kinds of discussions, and I’m not going to ignore the results of the feasibility study,” said Councillor Campbell. “However, the only way I will support the expansion is if the study shows an overwhelming amount of evidence that this will largely benefit our community and our recreation capabilities. I am not prepared to support it otherwise.”

Councillor Scott Wilson admitted he was also reluctant to support the MOU, not because of the Humber lands situation in the past, but because the MOU did mention costs to the town during this process, of which he felt there should be none.

“The MOU infers in several places in costs to the town,” said Councillor Wilson. “I don’t think there should be any cost to the town to permit construction on our property – [permitting it] should be our sole contribution.”

Mayor Jeremy Williams also saw mention of costs as a red flag, despite his enthusiasm at the idea of the campus expanding.

“I would love to get going on this, but as they say ‘once burnt, twice shy’,” he said. “I would like to support an MOU that has some teeth in it. We kind of got slapped in the face once; maybe you should bring us some flowers this time around. It feels an awful lot like we’re negotiating a legal contract and I’m not sure we should be doing this.”

The costs referred to in the MOU however, would not have anything to do with the proposed expansion or the feasibility study itself, explained acting CAO ED Brennan.

“The MOU is the first step in this process,” he said. “The money in the MOU that the Town would be responsible for is limited to the staff time surrounding the discussion and preparation of the MOU. If there was an opportunity for the Town to do construction with the building, the Town would be responsible for additions or alterations. The MOU merely leaves a door open to provide a way for the Town to work with Humber to satisfy the Town’s needs.”

He added that the MOU is not a contract agreeing to the expansion, but rather the first step in the process to review and study the idea of the expansion through the feasibility study. Once the feasibility study is completed, Humber would then bring back the results to discuss and negotiate with the town about the expansion.

“The goal of this MOU, to Mr. Brennan’s point, is the start [of the process] to renew our commitment,” said Ms. Rancourt. “We are under new management. In rural areas, most initiatives are truly successful when there is a true partnership and good dialogue between the school and the town. We are here, we are committed, and we would love to see this work as well.”

Deputy Mayor Warren Maycock’s motion to accept the MOU and for the Town and Humber College to sign off on it was passed. According to Humber College, the feasibility study will begin once the MOU has been signed, and will take approximately six to eight months to complete, at which point the results will be brought back to council.

         

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