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Downtown College campus not proceeding as hoped, College to focus on enrolment growth as top priority

Enrolment challenges mean that a prospective donation of land proposed as a potential site for a new campus of Okanagan College in Salmon Arm will not proceed. (The land identified for the potential donation is located between 10th Street SW, 10th Avenue, Foothill Road and Shuswap Street.)
 
“We very much appreciate the generous offer of 20 acres of land for a campus closer to Salmon Arm’s downtown, but the agreement around the proposal included some conditions that we will be unable to meet,” explained Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton. “It would be unfair to Jerry Thompson (the prospective donor) and municipal planning processes to tie up the land by suggesting that we might be able to meet them in the near future.”
 
The offer of land to the College and the City of Salmon Arm’s commitment to servicing were contingent on a number of factors that the three parties agreed to in 2013.
 
Those included developing education and business plans that would warrant building a downtown campus. Because the land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, the eventual donation would hinge on having the Agricultural Land Commission approve removing the parcel of land from the ALR, based on the education and business plans.
 
“We worked hard to identify programs and circumstances that would take us past those conditions, but we have been unable to do that,” said Hamilton. “One of the reasons is because we have not experienced the enrolment demand for programs in Salmon Arm that was anticipated, mainly as a consequence of changing demographics and declining school populations regionally. In order to proceed with an application to the Agricultural Land Commission we would need a compelling case based on a lack of space at our current facilities. That is not the case at this time or within the time frame anticipated by the agreement.
 
“We have been working closely with both the prospective donor and municipal officials, who have been gracious in their appreciation of our circumstances. While we regret that we are unable to proceed, the College remains completely committed to growing its activities in the Salmon Arm region.”
 
The City of Salmon Arm is understandably disappointed that Okanagan College will not be proceeding with the downtown College campus, at least in the short term, due to enrollment challenges,” said Mayor Nancy Cooper. “The City remains committed to the concept of an expanded campus in close proximity to the downtown. 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. Thanks also to the many volunteers and the Economic Development Society for their passionate work on this project to date.”
 
“We would like to thank all the people (including the City staff) that were associated with the effort to make the downtown College a reality,” said Jerry Thompson. “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.”
 
Hamilton said Okanagan College’s efforts are focused on increasing enrolments and developing new programs to take advantage of the capacity at the current Salmon Arm campus and the associated trades facility (located in the industrial area).
 
“We also remain committed to meeting the needs our community and ensuring we are offering relevant programming,” he said. “Our new Regional Dean, Joan Ragsdale, will bring fresh eyes to those objectives and will work closely with College personnel, our partners and the community in that regard.”
 
An example of what that may look like is the recently-announced development of a new Environmental Studies diploma option in Salmon Arm that builds on existing geographical information systems expertise and programs at the campus, says Hamilton. The College is also pursuing other programming options, all with the purpose of offsetting declining high school graduating classes over the next few years by attracting students both from out of region and from other groups within the area.