By Kayla Perry, Editor-in-Chief
If you’re a Laurentian University student, chances are you’ve become familiar with Laurentian’s campaign for a stand-alone LU campus in Barrie.
At the very least, you’ve probably heard the slogan “it’s time” or visited itstimebarrie.ca, a website developed by the university, promoting Laurentian’s push for the Barrie university campus.
If this is familiar, then, it may come as a surprise that as of May 20 the Province, and more specifically the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, ultimately denied Laurentian’s proposal for a stand-alone Barrie campus, instead agreeing to co-finance and support the creation of a York University campus in Markham.
The province’s call for proposals was launched in December 2013, as the Proposals for Major Capacity Expansion, and ultimately saw the delivery of 13 university proposals.
Although Laurentian University classes are currently offered through a partnership with the Georgian College campus in Barrie, Laurentian had hoped to create it’s own, stand-alone campus, which would reside in 64-acres of vacant land on Essa Road: the proposed campus would include residence space to house up to 750 students, a student centre, and facilities for athletics and recreation. Proposed courses would have included Science, Engineering and Architecture, as well as Arts and Health.
Disappointment for many
According to the blog of Dominic Giroux, Laurentian University President and Vice-Chancellor, business will continue as usual for students, faculty and staff in Barrie.
However, in the May 20 post, Giroux wrote that the decision is “obviously a major disappointment for the University,” which has been advocating for the proposal since mid-2010.
“We have left no stone unturned since then to advocate for a Barrie campus, which constituted one of the 40 desired outcomes identified in our 2012-2017 Strategic Plan. Government had repeatedly told us since 2010 that our proposal was very compelling, and that saying no to Laurentian in Barrie was not an option,” wrote Giroux.
Former city councillor and current Mayor of Barrie, Jeff Lehman, has been very public in his support of Laurentian’s endeavour. In his inaugural address, given in December 2014, Lehman repeated the slogan, reiterating that “it’s time” for Barrie to have its own university campus.
“We need to continue to support a stand-alone campus of Laurentian University in our city, as complementary to our renowned Georgian College, because we can only get stronger with both,” Lehman continued.
Less than one year later, on the day the official decision was announced by the Ministry, Lehman issued a statement, which in part read, “We are extremely disappointed with the Province’s decision.”
The Mayor continued on to state, “A vision of university education has been co-developed by Laurentian, the city, our community, and industry that would help Barrie thrive into the future.”
Why not Barrie?
A statement issued by the Ministry cites helping more students receive postsecondary education close to home as the reason for Markham’s successful proposal, which was “unanimously chosen by a review panel for its potential to deliver undergraduate education in an underserved community, improve quality and innovation, achieve cost effectiveness and help build Ontario’s economy.”
Moreover, the Ministry’s statement notes that Laurentian’s proposal “did not sufficiently address the priorities guiding expansion,” and that York University’s proposal for a Markham campus came at a “reasonable cost.”
However, in Lehman’s statement, he notes, “Barrie is the largest census metropolitan area in Canada without a university campus, and is projected to grow by over 30 percent in the coming years.”
Similarly, Chris Mercer, Executive Director of Student Life and Enrollment Management, allegedly told CBC Sudbury in May that the Markham proposal is a “curious choice” given the nearness of other university campuses.
“It, in my mind, totally doesn’t respond to the access to education issue that this process was intended to address.”
According to itstimebarrie.ca, only 13 percent of Barrie citizens have a university degree, compared with 21 percent provincially.
Instead, the selected York University-Markham Centre campus will accommodate 4,000 students in the initial phase. Much like Laurentian’s proposal, the Markham campus proposal received strong support from the City of Markham, York Region, and political figures in the area. York University will construct and operate the Markham Centre campus in partnership Seneca College, which has campuses in Toronto and the York Region.
Economic impact on Laurentian
The long-anticipated decision comes after Laurentian has donated a great deal of time, resources, and university funds to supporting the campaign and proposal.
As Giroux continued to write in the May 20 blog post, while the government’s announcement does not have a financial impact on the university moving forward into the school year, “expenditures which had been capitalized for the Barrie campus project will trigger a loss of approximately $2 million.” Among these costs is a KPMG economic impact study, commissioned by the university in April 2014.
According to Giroux, the costs will be included in the university’s 2014-15 financial statements.
Furthermore, as of June 2014, Laurentian’s Board of Governors had approved a total commitment of $25 million towards the stand-alone campus – funds that would equal a total of $39 million in monetary commitments when added to the $14 million previously pledged by the City of Barrie (a sum which was only a monetary commitment, and has in no way been spent by the City or the University).
According to the Ministry, all universities whose proposals were deemed unsuccessful were offered the opportunity to debrief with the Ministry about the strengths and weaknesses of their proposals.
The Ministry also noted the selection of a Markham campus came after a “transparent and competitive process by an evaluation panel.”
And while it’s unclear what steps the university can take to ensure the dream of a stand-alone Laurentian University campus in Barrie becomes a reality, Mercer told CBC Sudbury in May that the university has “no intention of taking no for an answer.”