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‘Sneak peek’ at the new UFV Chilliwack campus

Visitors take a tour of UFV
Visitors take a tour of UFV's Canada Education Park campus on Tuesday.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

B.C. and federal government ministers, city and university officials got a “sneak peek” of the University of the Fraser Valley’s new campus located in the Chilliwack Education Park grounds Tuesday.

Construction workers still carried ladders and building materials around the L-shaped wooden beams and steel ribs that will form the student “corridor” leading from a cafeteria and bookstore at one end of the new campus to a “town hall” courtyard at the other, its south-facing wall and ceiling made completely of glass.

Two floors of classrooms form the north and south sides of the structure, with staircases leading down to the “pedestrian” corridor.

An “aboriginal gathering place,” modelled after a traditional Sto:lo longhouse and large enough to hold 200 people, is also part of the design.

The state-of-the-art campus will include solar heating and “light harvesting” to reduce electrical costs, and will draw its water from below the Chilliwack aquifer in order to protect the city’s supply of drinking water.

Considerable cost-savings were made by incorporating part of the old military engineering school that once occupied the site at the former CFB Chilliwack property into the design of the new campus.

The education park is a joint venture by UFV and the City of Chilliwack to redevelop the former military property, which the federal government turned over to the Canada Lands Company after the military base closed in 1996.

Just 18 months ago, Craig Toews, UFV’s chair of new campus planning, was talking to The Progress about the plan to “crack open” the never-used engineering school that resembled a rusting battleship to build an “open, welcoming” campus in its place for UFV students to study and to feel at home.

If Tuesday’s sneak peek is any measure, Toews has reached that goal — and then some.

“We look forward to moving into the new facility in May,” UFV president Mark Evered said, to the blue-ribbon audience of politicians, university board and staff members, who gathered at UFV’s existing Trades and Technology Centre before the tour.

He said the new campus — which will house health sciences, arts, business and agriculture programs — is “desperately needed because as a university we are running full-speed to keep up with an incredible demand.”

About 16,000 students currently attend UFV campuses in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission and satellite campuses in Agassiz and Hope, and that number is expected to grow with the region’s population.

UFV is one of the top-ranked universities in Canada for its size, Evered said, “but it’s more than that.”

“We’re providing opportunity for students who would not be admitted to other research universities in the province,” he said.

Not because of their grades, he added, but because of the cost of attending universities outside the region, and lack of backgrounds that ease access to higher education.

UFV students come from the farms and ordinary families that make their home in the Fraser Valley, not the well-financed professionals with higher educational backgrounds.

“We don’t measure quality by how hard it is to enter UFV,” Evered said, “we measure our success by our students when they leave.”

He said UFV grads are “snapped up” by law schools, medical schools and graduate schools, and employers “prefer UFV grads” with their combination of academic and practical training.

“Those are the ways we measure our success,” he said.

Larry Stinson, chairman of UFV’s board of governors, said investments in post-secondary education like the new campus is “essential to the economic success of our children and our region.”

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner said although global economic woes dominate news headlines “there are still jobs looking for people.”

“The challenge is matching those jobs with skill sets — that’s where the new campus and the programs offered by UFV come in.”

Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto said because of B.C.’s investment in the new campus “thousands of students will have access to quality post-secondary education and training.”

With the skill sets they acquire at UFV, she said, they will be able to “support families with really good jobs.”

The B.C. government has invested more than $10 million in the new campus, and earlier contributed $21 million for construction of the Trades and Technology Centre.

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl said the federal government has allocated $13 million to UFV and the Canada Education Park project, more than $3 million of that from the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, part of the government’s economic stimulus plan.

“This money has been well spent,” Strahl said, creating “jobs for engineers, architects and construction workers when they were needed most.”

Sto:lo Elder Terry Prest welcomed the officials to the First Nation’s traditional territory.

“Our people are starting to grow strong and healthy,” he said, as more aboriginal students attend university to become doctors and lawyers.

And politicians, he added, a reference to Steven Point, a former Sto:lo chief and provincial court judge, who is now B.C.’s Lieut-Governor.

“We’re going to have a lot more people like him,” Prest said.

Eventually, UFV’s new $40-million campus will comprise one million square-feet of new buildings, double the size of the Abbotsford campus, and serve up to 20,000 students.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

twitter.com/paperboy2

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