KEMPTVILLE — There are no takers for the job of reviving ag education at Kemptville College, according to the newly-released report of a provincially-mandated working group.
“There was really no interest,” from any educational institution, says group co-chair and OMAFRA regional manager Gary McTavish, not ruling out that a partner may yet come forward if circumstances change. “You can look at it as a glass half-full or half-empty.”
There is also no interest from the province, so you can forget about the return of an agricultural college at Kemptville, the college’s alumni association president Ron Burgess says.
“Under the Liberal government there will be no two-year ag program unless a miracle happens,” he said. “They have no interest.”
Burgess told Farmers Forum that when the alumni association met with Ag Minister Jeff Leal last year, they were led to believe he was “going to do whatever he could” to bring back the ag college. “It’s unfortunate but the government didn’t have any desire to rethink how to bring it back.
“Is it over? As far as the two-year diploma program, I can’t see it happening. There may be an opportunity to bring in short programs — up to a year — like welding.”
In March 2014, the University of Guelph announced it would close the then-97-year-old agricultural college, graduating the final agriculture class last spring.
The university will operate and upkeep the college until its agreement expires in 2018.
Tasked last summer with feeling out the interest of education providers, including colleges and universities that offer agriculture programs, the working group came up empty.
The group got no response from St. Lawrence College in Kingston, University of Guelph, and Niagara College. Despite being offered favourable lease rates, both Trent University and Fleming College in Peterborough turned down a meeting.
Algonquin College toured the campus and met with the working group several times, but ultimately wasn’t ready to make plans.
The working group’s report, submitted to the agriculture minister in November, was released publicly in late January. The report concludes that partnering with existing colleges and universities is “unlikely in the immediate future,” chalking up the lack of interest to the financial pressures of higher operating costs and lower enrolment.
North Grenville Township, with its head office in Kemptville, is working on a business feasibility study to determine if it will buy the college’s land and buildings and set up a non-profit corporation to manage a multi-institutional centre. The working group helped the municipality explore about a dozen non-post-secondary uses, from Olds College in Alberta to Semex.
The French Catholic board will use a few buildings for a new Grade 1 to 9 school next fall and four other leads showed promise, including Kingston-based Ongwanada, which may provide vocational programming for individuals with developmental disabilities.
“It is possible that building upon the success of such initiatives, Ontario’s post-secondary institutions may find new opportunities at Kemptville Campus that are attractive to them in the future,” the report says.