A senior Okanagan College official acknowledged that it may take the college longer than planned to fundraise $5 million for its proposed expansion. “It may take us a little bit longer,” said Donna Lomas, regional dean for the South Okanagan-Similkameen, adding later that the college is confident that it will meet its goals. Lomas made that comment after board members of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen rejected a request to contribute $2 million over three years towards the proposed Centre of Excellence in Penticton.
The board members also voted against holding a referendum on the issue now or next year during the 2011 municipal elections.
Directors Andrew Jakubeit, John Vassilaki, Garry Litke and Randy McLean found themselves in the minority as the board voted 14-4 against the contribution over concerns that the request amounted to a bail out.
Lomas expressed understanding for the RDOS decision in light of the current financial situation. Regional directors acted in a manner, that they deemed to be in the best interest of their constituents, she said.
“We are disappointed, but we understand the RDOS. They have a lot of competing projects,” she said.
Lomas still struck a tone of optimism. While she declined to comment on current fundraising numbers, she expressed confidence that the college will be able to meet its goals, promising a major announcement at the end of March.
Lomas said the project has received interest from a wide range of interested parties, from local businesses to large national corporations. The college has also received support from prominent local individuals who wish to remain anonymous.
Tough economic times have complicated fundraising, said Lomas.
“But people recognize the vision of the project,” she said.
The proposed expansion would add the 8,000 square-foot Centre of Excellence learning space to the campus complex. The building will provide space for more than 800 students in a variety of trades and technology programs that highlight new methods of sustainable development and energy as the building aims to have a sustainable net zero carbon footprint.
Total costs for the building top $28 million, with $22.6 million coming from Ottawa and Victoria.
The City of Penticton has agreed to chip in $267,000 as well as reduce development fees, saving the project upwards of $160,500.
“The college is an important economic engine for our community and the entire region,” said Mayor Dan Ashton. “Having a state-of-the-art educational institution like Okanagan College and their leading edge green initiatives and technology showcases this campus and community to the world.”
According to Lomas, construction of the facility is currently underway and will run parallel to fund-raising efforts.
Completion of the building is scheduled for March 2011, Lomas said. She later confirmed that the college will continue to fundraise for the facility if it cannot meet the $5 million mark before March 2011.
“You are always fundraising,” she said.
The college recently added former MLA Rick Thorpe and his wife Yasmin as honourary campaign co-chairs to boost the campaign, which Lomas said is currently in its “quiet” phase.
Proponents of the expansion say that it will allow local post-secondary students to stay within the community, allowing them to continue their education without having to bear the costs of moving away.