Chilliwack-based students, take note: the BC Ministry of Science and Universities has announced that it will provide UFV with an additional $10 million in support of its current capital development project.
According to the university’s December 16 press release, the new funding will go towards ongoing construction costs associated with the renovation and expansion of UFV’s facilities at the Canada Education Park (CEP) campus in Chilliwack.
“It’s an investment for students who need, increasingly, to have a post-secondary education,” said Chilliwack MLA John Les. “A strong university presence is very good for any community where it happens.”
The announcement comes at a crucial time for the CEP after the recent demise of a purchase plan for UFV’s downtown Chilliwack campus put forward by Vancouver-based developer Shape Properties.
UFV Development Coordinator Craig Toews said that the new funding will help keep the project on track without having to cut any of the essential pieces.
“I feel with this 10 million dollar gift, we’re equipped to deliver a real successful project,” said Toews. “We already received approval from the ministry to build, [but it] was costing more than we anticipated […].”
The Canada Education Park project is a joint venture between UFV, the Justice Institute of BC, the City of Chilliwack, and the provincial government to redevelop the former Canadian Forces Base in Chilliwack into a multipurpose education and research park.
“We’re…taking our Chilliwack North package and transplanting it into a newer, state-of-the-art building,” explained Toews. “We’re using parts of a military engineering building… and we’re building anew and… knitting it together with a lot of open, sunlit space. You won’t even be able to tell where the old ends and the new starts.”
In addition to housing UFV’s Trades and Technologies Centre, the current phase of the CEP development project will include room to grow for Health Sciences, Teacher Education, and Aboriginal programming.
Toews emphasized the university’s effort to create a space that would foster community spirit and provide students with better places to gather than those of UFV’s downtown Chilliwack campus.
“Right now when you go to Chilliwack … there’s not really that central place where you can connect with people,” said Toews. “Bringing all of the components from those disparate buildings into one large building is going to bring community.”
One of the ways that the new campus will attempt to remedy this problem is with the creation of an Aboriginal Gathering Place, a large assembly area modelled after a longhouse with a 200 person capacity that will serve both students and the aboriginal community in Chilliwack. Bethany Wiens, a third-year Nursing student at UFV’s Chilliwack North campus said that students are looking forward to a new learning environment with better facilities and technology to assist them in preparing for their careers.
“Some nursing instructors have informed us that some of the funding will be put into providing more educational tools, such as a simulation lab that would include simulation dolls,” said Wiens. “These simulation dolls allow nursing students to develop their assessments skills and practice clinical situations in the classroom setting.”
UFV student Jay Mitchell said that by expanding UFV’s trades and professional programs capacity, the university will continue to grow in a way that serves the Fraser Valley, fulfilling its mandate as a regional university.
“The first phase of the project is a health services building to house our related programs,” said Mitchell. “The Boomer demographic will need increasing amounts of health services as they retire, and a large number of these jobs will be held by UFV graduates.”
MLA John Les noted that the CEP will help boost the local workplace market, creating jobs both during construction and day-to-day campus operations.
In October 2010, UFV awarded the majority of the construction work to BC contractor Stewart Olsen Dominion, who subcontracts to a number of small, local companies.
“Universities,” said Les, “are great employers of professors, faculty, and support staff.” According to the MLA, the expansion of UFV’s facilities in Chilliwack might also favourably influence the pending decision to expand public transit connecting the communities of the Fraser Valley.
“It will help to make an argument for a better transit service link between Chilliwack and Abbotsford,” said Les. “The students attending UFV at either campus could be one of the more significant groups to benefit from this.”
However, some students are sceptical that the expansion will result in any real changes to the transit system.
“As a campus, we have signed multiple petitions stating the need for a bus route to no avail,” said Bethany Wiens, “so I’m a little pessimistic as to seeing any concrete changes.”
Les concluded by adding that he feels very positively “Every time [he is] able to make an announcement that increases the development of the University of the Fraser Valley campus at Chilliwack.”
Construction is already well-underway for the $40 million campus development project that broke ground in April 2009. With an anticipated completion date of December of this year, Craig Toews said that the university is looking at a variety of other development projects for the future, including picking up where they left off with the student centre in Abbotsford after funding fell through this past October.
“Our next step in the Abbotsford capital planning is the student centre,” said Toews. He added that, if the university is able to sell the Chilliwack North campus or the Student Union Society finds alternate financing, “that project is immediately back on the rails.”
In addition to its recent $10 million investment, the B.C. government has already provided UFV $7.5 million for the purchase of the 84-acre site, $600 000 for the construction of an Aboriginal Gathering Place, and $21.6 million for the renovation of Building 1040, UFV’s new Trades and Technologies Centre.