“A big part of the college experience is meeting new people from all walks of life. If ACC was to have a split campus, our students would be at a disadvantage because they would be missing out on meeting and interacting with half of the students from other divisions.”
— Former Assiniboine Community College Students Association president Erin Lambert
“BMHC is their (the provincial government’s) headache and we might be the pill to cure that headache.”
— Former Assiniboine Community College
board chairman Al Patterson
Many Brandonites may well remember the lengthy and often emotional debate that once consumed the Assiniboine Community College and the city over whether to move the college campus to the former Brandon Mental Health Centre property on the North Hill.
The idea had been borne from the need for a campus expansion for the growing college, and the fact that in late 2003, the NDP government announced in its annual throne speech that it planned to work with developers and the city to convert BMHC into housing.
In the wake of that announcement, a public outcry by student leaders, union representatives and a group of New Democrats forced then-premier Gary Doer to float the idea of a split campus.
The government had come to the conclusion that moving ACC to the 160-acre BMHC site would be too expensive, after two separate studies came up with ever-increasing costs — the first price tag came in at $26 million, while a second estimate ranged from $36 to $66 million compared to a cost of $54 million if the province did a full expansion at ACC’s current east end campus.
As such, Doer and former Brandon West MLA Scott Smith had both essentially kiboshed BMHC as a new home for the college, and instead suggested moving part of the college to the North Hill property.
It was a plan that met fierce resistance from ACC administration, and college students, not to mention a large number of city residents, who felt that a split campus would effectively hurt the college, and the student experience.
The rest, as they say, is history. The government relented, and the folks at ACC began drawing up plans for moving the entire college to a new campus on the North Hill.
The first phase of the project was completed in the fall of 2007, with the opening of the $7.5-million Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts. Phase 2 was completed in the fall of 2010, with the opening of the Len Evans Centre for Trades and Technology, to the tune of $46 million.
But as the Sun reported yesterday, the third and final phase appears to have stalled. Plans have been made to relocate the ACC’s main campus on Victoria Avenue East into the North Hill’s Parkland Building, but the province’s Minister of Advanced Education, Erin Selby, says the timeline and cost for the final move is still unclear.
“Any development must be done bearing these costs in mind, particularly in a time of fiscal restraint,” Selby told the Sun. “In due course, the government will begin discussions with Assiniboine Community College regarding how and when the project might move forward, but no decisions have been made at this time.”
And thus it stands — a split campus — with still more than half of the college’s students stuck in the Victoria Avenue location.
We understand that the province’s fiscal condition — billions in debt and running a multi-year deficit — has forced it to reconsider what it can afford to fund in the short term.
Nevertheless, ACC president Mark Frison says the sooner Phase 3 is completed, the better.
We concur. Leaving one of Brandon’s post-secondary institutions in this condition for an extended length of time is unacceptable, just as it was unacceptable for the province to consider using the former BMHC — truly a unique and irreplaceable architectural jewel in this city — for housing development.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 25, 2012