Sell the college
By Patrick Meagher
KEMPTVILLE After five months of discussion, the provinces facilitator charged with determining on the future of Kemptville College recommended what the province had already decided: Dump the college.
Former federal Liberal agriculture minister Lyle Vanclief was appointed by Premier Kathleen Wynne to look for a solution for Kemptville College after an enormous public outcry ensued when the University of Guelph announced last March that it would close down the now 98-year-old agricultural college. It became the topic of conversation at the Ottawa Valley Farm Show. Grassroots meetings and rallies were held. A grassroots farmer-led task force was pulled together and a petition generated more than 8,000 names. But there has yet to be any sign of saving the agricultural component of the college.
Vanclief concludes his 35-page report by saying that the province should negotiate to transfer management and operations of the college to the local Municipality of North Grenville. He also recommended negotiating the sale of the college to the municipality.
Vanclief noted he received no commitment from any of the eight universities and colleges he contacted to provide or manage diploma programs at Kemptville. There is, however, interest in providing welding courses and one institution is interested in the college to house a school for young adults suffering from autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.
“There is a combination of interested parties that could lease most or all of the facilities on the campus which would ensure benefits to many regional, community and agricultural needs,” Vanclief wrote. “A local, independent, government-based, non-profit organization would likely be best positioned to work with multiple partners to ensure its success. The biggest challenge will be the ability to secure a provider or providers for specific or general agricultural academic education that would lead to a diploma-granting status.”
The word “challenge” unfortunately is too often todays euphemism for “dont think its going to happen.”
The cost to maintain the 847 acres and 40 buildings is so high that you can buy the college on the “cheap” if youve got a good plan that would benefit the community, said Kemptville College alumni president Ron Burgess, who spoke with ARIO, the provinces property managers.
Vanclief is “only really coming up with one solution and that is to hand the college over to the municipality, which has offered to take it over for three years,” Burgess said. “I dont think a municipality can manage a college. This is not well accepted. There is a bit of pessimism as to the end result of this. It kind of kicks the feet from underneath you in terms of hope.”
Burgess agreed that the college needs idea-people and a business plan, not bureaucrats. “Thats the scary part.”
Burgess also said that it appears the college has been dying a slow death since the University of Guelph took over campus management in 1997 but could not put his finger on the universitys motivation for not promoting the college and student enrolment.
Burgess also said that Vanclief told him that the province is not prepared to fund Kemptville as a stand-alone college. But Burgess points out that no institution would consider looking at the college if the province doesnt say how much funding its willing to contribute.
“The sad part is that there are a lot of students who will just not make the seven-hour trek to Ridgetown. I think that Kemptville can come back with the right people and be the college that it never was if given the opportunity.”
But it needs provincial funding and Burgess is not sure the province is prepared to do that.
He added that city people dont realize the grassroots ties that young people have to the farm and the need of parents to have the kids home for the weekend to help with farm chores.
In an interview with Farmers Forum, provincial Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal would not say whether or not he endorsed Vancliefs Dec. 8 report and did not offer any concrete solutions. He did say: “I wont be rushed into any decision making.”
Leal also said that any plan for the college must include four principles: take into account the current and prospective students at each campus (French-language Alfred College is also closing); consider the economic impact on Eastern Ontario communities; ensure an environment that encourages an agricultural education; and treat the Kemptville and Alfred campuses should with equal importance.