Training, bilingual education, health and wellness, economic development, agricultural resiliency in face of climate change — among focuses of impending ‘education and community hub’
KEMPTVILLE — If all goes according to plan, a deal transferring the former Kemptville College campus to the municipality should be inked by New Year’s Eve, says North Grenville Mayor David Gordon. Actual change of ownership would occur with closing of the deal foreseen by April next year, according to the municipality’s administration.
North Grenville will acquire most of the defunct post-secondary agricultural school campus from the agency currently owning the site on behalf of the province — the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario — under an agreement in principle announced earlier this month but whose terms remain undisclosed.
“We can’t say too much,” Gordon cautioned Nov. 23 , when asked how much the municipality will pay for the property — if anything. “We’re fine-tuning everything. Hopefully the information is out by the end of the year. We’ll have everything signed and everything.”
“I would think so,” the mayor replied, when asked if local taxpayers will be pleased in the end. “We’ll have to wait and see, and then we’ll bring it all out. It’s a good news story.”
North Grenville CAO Brian Carré was slightly more bullish than his mayor on completing the agreement of purchase of sale. “I’m hoping that document will be finished before the holidays,” he said Nov. 24, adding the deal should close, pending final due diligence, “prior to April.”
The municipality intends to turn the campus into a multi-tenant “education and community hub” based on “pillars” of education and training, health and wellness, and economic development. Agriculture is also envisioned to make some sort of a comeback in that list, in connection with climate change research and activities at the French public school that has been using part of the campus since August 2016.
“Agriculture will be very important,” Carré insisted, suggesting that pupils at École élémentaire publique Rivière Rideau — the first-ever French-language school in North Grenville — may be involved in growing food and learning about local food production.
More than that, the impending remake of the campus is promoted as an actual partnership between the municipality with the Eastern Ontario French Public School Board. The board “approached us, and they fully support us on what we are trying to achieve,” the CAO said.
A second francophone elementary school — École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys — opened in a couple of other campus buildings last October. While that one is operated by the French Catholic Board of Eastern Ontario, Carré confirmed that only the public counterpart board is involved in the campus partnership with North Grenville.
Bilingual education is very much part of the campus’s future in any case.
“The renewal of the former Kemptville Campus will see the property and building infrastructure
repurposed for bilingual education and related community service activities under the mandate of climate change adaptation and agricultural resiliency,” the mayor said in a press release earlier this month.
“This investment clearly shows the interest of all parties in joining forces to give a new life to a North Grenville historical asset,” said Eastern Ontario French Public School Board President Linda Savard in the same release. “This collaborative project demonstrates the true saying of an old African proverb: Alone you can go faster but together you can go a lot further.”
A step toward the municipality’s acquisition occurred Nov. 17 when the Grenville Community Futures Development Corporation approved an $84,900 Eastern Ontario Development Program grant to help North Grenville through the start-up phase of transforming the campus — pending successful transfer of ownership. Announced at Grenville County’s annual economic development summit in Kemptville, the funds will also support the completion of a five-year business plan.
Chris McCorkell, Chairman of the Grenville Community Futures Development Corporation, said the money would “assist the municipality in repurposing a significant community asset, increasing community capacity for business development and positioning the community for economic diversification activities.”
Navdeep Bains, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development — and the Minister responsible for FedDev Ontario — said the education and community hub will “strengthen this area’s economic potential, as well as provide resources to the individuals who live and work here.”
The municipality and broader Eastern Ontario region have been left to pick up the pieces since the University of Guelph abruptly announced the closure of the nearly 100-year-old campus in March 2014. Kemptville graduated its last group of “aggie” students in 2015 and pulled out for good in 2016.
A 2016 BDO Feasibility Study recommended a mixed-use hub for the renewal of Kemptville Campus. The study followed unsuccessful efforts by a ‘Renewal Task Force’ — involving representatives of the region’s farming community and the municipality — to re-establish college-level agricultural training at the campus by having another post-secondary institution take over from the U of G.
This article was edited to clarify that only an agreement of purchase and sale is imminent, with actual closing of the purchase to come by April 1. Reference to the W.B. George Centre was also removed, as neither French-language school is using that building — among the handful on site that they do currently occupy.
The main sign at the University of Guelph’s Kemptville Campus, along County Rd. 44, as it appeared in 2014 before the U of G pulled out of North Grenville.
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