Municipality tackles student programming issue, proposes Innovation Centre in conjunction with private-sector tech partners

South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde pitches the Innovation Centre idea, Jan. 31 in Iroquois, with fellow council members (from left) Deputy Mayor Jim Locke, and councillors Bill Ewing and Marc St. Pierre. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

IROQUOIS — South Dundas hopes create an ‘innovation centre’ to incubate local entrepreneurs and support a proposed new Specialist High Skills Information and Communications Technology stream for students at Seaway District High School.

In a move clearly timed to increase pressure on the Upper Canada District School Board against the proposed shutdown of the Iroquois-based high school, municipal officials unveiled the initiative at the board’s final public committee meeting reviewing school closures this week.

The municipality has received letters offering support in principle from Carleton University, St. Lawrence College, Cornwall and the Counties Community Futures Development Corporation, the Eastern Ontario Training Board, Big River Technologies Inc. and Ross Video, according to the Jan. 31 presentation by Mayor Evonne Delegarde and Councillor Marc St. Pierre in front of the accommodation review committee pondering the proposed closures of both the high school and Morrisburg Public School.

The municipality simultaneously put out a press that evening about the innovation centre — whose actual location within the municipality has yet to be determined.

“It is envisioned that the proposed municipally-led Innovation Centre (Incubator) will provide two valuable services to the community. The Innovation Centre will serve as a place to connect entrepreneurs with the necessary assets to remove barriers to growth, drive revenue and increase opportunities. It will also serve as an all-ages learning laboratory designed to educate and inspire individuals interested in Information and Communication Technology,” the municipality announced.  “This may include providing enhanced after-hours programming in Coding and Introduction to Digital Media and Gaming Development. There may also be the opportunity for students to apply for extra credit based on some of this programming.”

“This unique program will give kids at Seaway a head start on their future by providing them with the important skills on the job with actual employers,” said Councillor St. Pierre. “It will also align the students with the future needs of the community, ensuring a successful future for the students and the community.”

Before the arrival of HD television, Seaway District High School had a complete TV studio and switching set-up as part of a media program, thanks to the help of equipment from Ross Video. In conjunction with the innovation centre, the Emmy-winning manufacturer may look at doing something like that again if Seaway stays open, company CEO David Ross told Nation Valley News.

Ross has previously presented to the committee but was a spectator this time out.

“It is through initiatives like this that we can accomplish the goals of the [board] in providing students with unique opportunities, while attracting additional students to the school,” said South Dundas Economic Development Officer Rob Hunter.

Hunter did not want to speculate on what would happen to the collaborative proposal if the board closes Seaway anyway when it votes March 23. “I think the best outcome is companioning the education piece with innovation centre,” he remarked.

However, the key local firm on board with the venture, Ross Video, has indicated it will not proceed with its own planned 40,000-square-foot, 80-job plant expansion if that happens — and potentially cut ties with South Dundas altogether.  David Ross has suggested the firm’s entire Iroquois manufacturing operation may move to Ogdensburg, NY, if the board kiboshes high school education in the village. “It may tip that decision over the edge,” the CEO of the $200-million-a-year company reconfirmed for Nation Valley News after the Iroquois meeting.

Hunter said the board already “understands there’s an economic impact” to closing South Dundas schools, in light of a municipal consultant’s report chronicling a major multi-million dollar annual hit to the municipality, including the potential pullout by Ross. The innovation centre idea, he added, goes a step further by addressing the board’s presumed drive for better student programming — with a counterproposal achieving that without closing Seaway.  “We wanted to show them programming, and here’s something out of the box and a little different,” he explained.

Post-secondary institutions like Carleton University and St. Lawrence College wouldn’t sign on unless the proposal was “serious,” he said.

The province already funds Specialist High Skill Major high school degrees in fields like healthcare and agriculture, the economic development officer pointed out, and the proposed new program would likewise tap the province’s education budget.

The municipality queried the administration at Seaway on whether new programming was possible in conjunction with an innovation centre, “and the answer we received back was, yes, they have the teacher resource and the financial resources [through the province].”

A slide highlighting the proposed Innovation Centre, as presented by the Municipality of South Dundas at the last ARC 2A meeting considering the closures of Seaway District High School and Morrisburg Public School. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

A slide highlighting the proposed Innovation Centre, as presented by the Municipality of South Dundas at the last ARC 2A meeting considering the closures of Seaway District High School and Morrisburg Public School. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Because of its distance from other high schools, Seaway is “fully funded” despite having some excess capacity, he noted, raising a point emphasized repeatedly during the Jan. 31 session. The same distance threshold also applies to Morrisburg, which likewise receives funding as though it were full.

According to Hunter, students at Seaway recently demonstrated an appetite for a new type of education when the school offered a two-week coding course as a trial and immediately drew 30 sign-ups. “It goes to show the demand. These programs can be easily integrated into Seaway,” he asserted. Seaway students, he added, might be inspired to go further with their specialized media and coding training at college and university, then return to start a business in South Dundas or find work at, say, html-coder Big River Technologies in Gananoque.

The centre’s other mission, serving entrepreneurs, would involve some funding from the municipality in conjunction with in-kind services from the partnering firms. “It’s all subject to negotiation, too,” he said, addressing more fully the cost question that came up at the Jan. 31 meeting.

The proposed innovation centre comprises a major part of the municipality’s official submission to the board titled, It takes a community to raises a child, it takes a high school to raise a community.

Hunter said the innovation centre could be located in any number of locations in South Dundas. Privately owned sites, school facilities, or municipal buildings are all on the table.


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