By Connor Lynch
KEMPTVILLE — North Grenville Township is the new owner of Kemptville College campus and will now seek tenants for many of its buildings, marking an end of an era of agriculture-focused education in Eastern Ontario.
The township and most news media reported that the sale price was $7.7 million but in fact the township obtained the college free-of-charge, along with a $3.7 million forgivable provincial loan (as long as the municipality uses it to renew infrastructure and develop the campus) and a $4 million loan to make upgrades. The township now owns 633 acres of the original 837 acres and 34 of about 50 buildings.
The University of Guelph took over the campus in 1997 and in 2014 announced it would close the college in 2016. The last ag students graduated in 2015. The first agriculture course was introduced 100 years ago in the fall of 1918. The closure angered many local farmers as the campus was the go-to college for generations of farmers, closing only once to house Canadian soldiers during the Second World War.
The campus, though owned by the municipality, will be run by an arms-length, not-for-profit entity that will be under pressure to find tenants or buyers of buildings to avoid charging taxpayers to cover the $4 million loan.
A goal of the non-profit is to “initiate education pathways and create awareness around the environment and sustainable food production,” and to focus on “climate change resiliency and low carbon innovation,” a township press release said on March 22.
Some campus property was already purchased for two elementary French language schools. A daycare centre is renting a building and Semex Alliance is leasing some of the college farm property and crop land.
Back in 2014, shortly after the announcement of the closure, North Grenville chief administration officer Brian Carré said that he didn’t believe it was the beginning of the end for ag education in Eastern Ontario. “My goal is as soon as this new government is organized, and the doors are open, we’ll be there. We need ag education and research in Eastern Ontario.”