Building a new campus in Vanderhoof is a top priority for the College of New Caledonia (CNC).
At a Jan. 24 meeting organized by the Nechako Valley Post-Secondary Education Working Group, CNC President John Bowman said the planning and building of a new campus in Vanderhoof ranks higher in priority than any other facilities and development project over the next five years.
“I don’t think it’s if, I think it’s when this will happen,” said Bowman.
The college estimates, although generously, that a new campus will cost $15 million to build and require 40,000 square feet of construction, for things like offices, classes and two multi-purpose workshop spaces. The money will also be used to purchase furniture and instructional aids, two expensive necessities, said Bowman.
“Do we need $15 million? Yes. That’s our position right now with government,” he said.
“Can we do a hell of lot with $10 or $12 million? Yes. We could build a very nice campus for $10 or $12 million.”
The initiative, spearheaded by the District of Vanderhoof, is supported by numerous companies and organizations, including L&M Lumber, Canfor, New Gold, Thompson Creek Metals, as well as the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition, School District No. 91, Saik’uz First Nation and the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.
The provincial government, which provides more than 75 per cent of CNC’s operational funding, and committed about $22 million to expanding the CNC campus in Quesnel, will also play a decisive role in building a new college in Vanderhoof.
To gain the province’s support, Mayor Gerry Thiessen, who helped establish the working group, previously met with John Yap, Minister of Advanced Education, and former minister Naomi Yamamoto.
On a local level, Thiessen frequently communicates with Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, who, ahead of the May 2013 election, has expressed his commitment to expanding post-secondary education in the area.
“I believe this is the one major thing that needs to happen,” said Thiessen, “that we have a strong education place for our young people to get the training and technical trades they need to qualify for those jobs in the mining, forestry and health care sectors.”
During the meeting, Thiessen read an excerpt from an academic textbook about the renewal of rural and small town economies of northern B.C., Investing in Place, published by the University of British Columbia in 2012.
Historically, low returns have been associated with investment in education, but those days are long gone, explained Thiessen.
“Rural and small town regions will not attract capital to develop innovative ideas if they continue to be perceived as concentrations of low-skilled employment,” he paraphrased from the textbook.
Jerry Petersen, director of Area F in the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, commented on the fast-paced modernization of industry in the area and the critical need for post-secondary education training here.
“Things are happening and they’re happening fast, and if we’re prepared and ready, then it’s going to happen here. If we’re not ready for it, it goes somewhere else,” he said.
Charlene Seguin, superintendent of School District No. 91, said the cost of attending college and university away from home is becoming increasingly expensive and less accessible.
As an employer in the community, a well-equipped CNC campus in Vanderhoof would help attract workers, students and others to the area, said Seguin.
“The idea of having training so close to home is an asset for us,” said Seguin.