July 06, 2016 - 10:32 AM
SALMON ARM - Plans for a new Okanagan College campus located in downtown Salmon Arm on 20 acres of donated land have evaporated because there aren’t enough students to justify the project.
Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton says while campuses in Kelowna and Penticton continue to grow, those in Vernon and Salmon Arm are ‘flat’. The college’s two facilities in Salmon Arm are currently sitting at roughly 60 per cent capacity, which is just not enough to bring a proposal for a new campus forward to the provincial government, Hamilton says.
The vision for a new campus located in Salmon Arm’s downtown core emerged several years ago when community member Jerry Thompson offered to donate 20 acres of land to the college. By 2013, Thompson, the college and the City of Salmon Arm had signed a letter of intent to pursue the creation of a campus in that location.
While the idea did not initially come from the college itself, Hamilton says they were always supportive of the community’s vision of Salmon Arm being a ‘college community’ with a campus located closer to the downtown core.
“I think the city and various people in the community were looking at this and saying 'if we’re going to see significant growth here it would be a lot better to have the campus closer to the downtown where everything is walking distance and it becomes part of the cultural and economic heartbeat of the community,'” Hamilton says.
To proceed with the project, the college had to come up with a business plan that would be convincing to the provincial government, as well as the Agricultural Land Commission, which would need to grant an exemption in order for the land, which is in the ALR, to be used as a campus.
“It became clear to us that we do not have the student numbers to back up an education plan,” Hamilton says. “We needed to be able both with the Ministry of Education and the Agricultural Land Commission, to demonstrate that we don’t have sufficient capacity at our existing buildings.”
He says Salmon Arm has been experiencing enrolment challenges due to an aging demographic and a decline in secondary school graduating class sizes.
“It would be unfair to Jerry Thompson and municipal planning processes to tie up the land by suggesting that we might be able to meet (the conditions) in the near future,” Hamilton says.
Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper is currently out of the office, but says in a media release she is disappointed with the outcome.
“The City remains committed to the concept of an expanded campus in close proximity to the downtown,” Cooper says. “The city is here to support the college in continuing to grow the Salmon Arm campus. Thank you to the prospective land donor, Mr. Jerry Thompson, for his vision and generosity.”
In the release, Thompson expresses his gratitude to all those involved in the effort.
“It may have been a big dream for all of us at this time but in the future it will happen, it just was not the right time. We do not attach any blame to the Okanagan College staff, as we think they did what they could in this environment. But as we move forward and we must, other opportunities will present themselves,” Thompson says.
The college plans to focus on increasing enrolments and developing new programs at the current Salmon Arm campuses, Hamilton says.
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