The expansion of Okanagan College in Salmon Arm was foremost in the minds of city councillors who attended the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Whistler last week – including an attempt to put the project on Premier Christy Clark’s agenda.
The city, along with Tom Styffe, board chair for Okanagan College, managed to score a meeting with the premier and Amrik Virk, minister of advanced education.
Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo also attended the meeting.
“We wanted to discuss where we are at with the 20-acre (land) donation, because we’ve really developed a partnership between the land donor, the college and the city, who will provide the servicing to the property. It’s really important. There’s a real sense of how much we want this for our city,” said Cooper in an interview Monday.
“I got the feeling that she was really listening,” said Cooper, although she noted there was nothing concrete planned as a result of the meeting. “I think we just have to keep at it. Okanagan College is working very hard developing a business plan and an education plan and we will continue to give our support.”
Coun. Debbie Cannon, who also attended, said it is important for the city to keep pushing the project because there is an 18-month window to get the appropriate applications in to the Agricultural Land Commission.
“We really have to keep the fire on this, so it doesn’t die,” notes Cannon. “The clock is ticking.”
Cooper said the premier joked with her about needing some pie from the Shuswap Pie Company, which she has sampled on two occasions in Salmon Arm.
Cooper also noted the college’s trades training facility in the Industrial Park appears to be under-utilized.
“You keep hearing about shortages in the trades and here we have a place where we could be doing more, and that’s something we want to see,” said Cooper, who said Virk told the city representatives that they should be hearing an announcement very soon.
City representatives also met with Transportation Minister Todd Stone regarding ongoing concerns about the Trans-Canada Highway, including four-laning projects and the planed upgrades to the Salmon River Bridge.
There has been some discussion of the preliminary plans with affected property owners; however, Stone stressed the plans are preliminary.
“He told us they are still looking for input,” said Cooper. “And they intend to bring the plans forward to a public open house.”
Cannon said the process will likely be lengthy before construction can begin.
“There’s a lot of private property in those plans that would have to be acquired – I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.”
Cooper said DeMille’s Farm Market, who previously donated land for the creation of a left-turn lane, have had their concerns noted.
“There will be a balance between community needs with safety concerns. The biggest thing we heard is that the plans are still in the early stages.”
Coun. Marg Kentel also noted the expense of highways construction projects, but turned Stone’s attention to a maintenance need along the highway through downtown.
“The ruts in the highways at the intersections from the trucks starting and stopping – they are just getting so deep it is making it very difficult for anyone with a disability to get across. It’s a problem and it needs addressing.”
Who should attend?
It has been suggested the city develop a policy that would not allow members of council who are not running for re-election attend conventions like UBCM or the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in that year.
Coun. Marg Kentel does not intend to run, but defends her trip, saying her experience on council is beneficial during meetings with cabinet ministers, and in voting on the UBCM resolutions.
Mayor Nancy Cooper defended the practice.
“I see where people are coming from and I respect that opinion, but whether she is running or not, Marg has the best interests of the city at heart. She was a very valuable member of the team.”
Kentel also notes those in attendance report back to council, so what’s learned in the various workshops is shared with everyone.