Land donation proposed for new Okanagan College campus

New plan: About 20 acres of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve between 10th Avenue, 10th Street, Shuswap Street and Foothill Road SW have been offered as a site for a college campus. - Lachlan Labere photo
New plan: About 20 acres of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve between 10th Avenue, 10th Street, Shuswap Street and Foothill Road SW have been offered as a site for a college campus.
— image credit: Lachlan Labere photo

A new proposal regarding a downtown campus for Okanagan College in Salmon Arm is sparking optimism amongst proponents.

A resident has proposed donating close to 20 acres of land, states a news release issued by Okanagan College.

“Jerry Thompson, a generous, community-spirited land owner, has identified a 20-acre parcel of land that he is willing to donate to the college for the purposes of a campus in the downtown area,” explained Tom Styffe, chair of the Okanagan College Board of Governors. “We have been in discussions with the city and Mr. Thompson about what has to happen to see that come to pass.”

The land is located within parcels Thompson owns between 10th Street SW, 10th Avenue SW, Foothill Road SW and Shuswap Street and is within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“There are some processes that we will have to deal with, but we are excited by the offer and the opportunity,” stated Styffe in the news release.

Arguably one of the biggest hurdles may be getting approval from the Agricultural Land Commission to use the property for a campus.

Before applying to the commission, the college will have to develop education, business and development plans for the property, Styffe said.

A portion of Thompson’s land has been used in the past for temporary camping for the Roots and Blues Festival.

The college, the City of Salmon Arm and the prospective donor have signed a letter of intent that focuses on the potential donation and the development of the property.

“The city clearly has an interest in seeing this proceed, from a number of perspectives,” stated Mayor Nancy Cooper in the release. “We realize how much of an economic generator that post-secondary education is and can be, and we want to encourage further development of Okanagan College within our region.”

Council’s commitment includes participating with the college and the donor on the ALC application and being ready to assist with access and services to the property if the application is successful.

“This is a very important first step,” stated Cooper. “We understand it will be at least two years before we can expect the application to go to the ALC, but patience and preparedness will be vital to this process. We are looking at the long-term benefits for our community and this region.”

Thompson said he sees the proposed donation as a way to give back to the community.

“I watched with interest the discussion about a downtown campus and saw a community inspired by the idea,” stated Thompson. “Salmon Arm has been good to my family, and I see an opportunity here to give back and help my community.”

The current campus sits on about five acres of land.

In 2012, a proposal to have agriculture as the college’s flagship program was announced. In April of that year, Margaret Hardy, then Downtown College Committee co-ordinator, stated the University College of the Fraser Valley, which has a significant agriculture program, had expressed an initial interest in partnering with Okanagan College to provide agricultural courses in Salmon Arm.

Also in 2012, a consulting group was contracted to prepare an economic impact analysis of a downtown campus.

At that time, Lana Fitt, manager of Salmon Arm Economic Development, said findings show that in the first year, based on an estimate of a 40 per cent growth in students reflecting factors such as diversified programming, increased housing and development of the agriculture program, impacts would include 42 new jobs and expenditures of $3.4 million. That didn’t include figures for construction of the campus or tourism from out-of-towners visiting students.

The proposed donation of land is the latest development in the idea of a downtown college campus which was first visualized about a decade ago.

The informal push to develop Salmon Arm as a college town became a formal initiative in 2010, when the Downtown Community Campus Committee was formed.

About two years of community consultation took place to generate the idea of agriculture as a flagship program. Two other areas of expanded programming the community pinpointed were in applied arts and culture and health-care education.

Although the former J.L. Jackson school site was proposed previously as a home for a downtown campus, the committee told the school district this past April that it was not able to come up with the necessary funds.


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