New Chilliwack UFV campus is ‘only the beginning’

The new $45-million UFV campus opening in Chilliwack’s Canada Education Park is just the beginning, officials say.

The new $45-million UFV campus opening in Chilliwack’s Canada Education Park is just the beginning, officials said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.

“There’s so many more possibilities for the future,” an elated Chilliwack MLA John Les said after the event attended by provincial, municipal and UFV officials.

“Some of the things that we will be able to do here — I haven’t got them all imagined yet,” he said. “But there’s room here for lots of imagination to take hold and really build something excellent for Chilliwack.”

UFV President Mark Evered praised Les and former UFV President Skip Basford for having the vision 10 years ago to form the city/university partnership that led to the new campus and UFV’s $21-million Trades and Technical Centre, also located at the Canada Education Park.

The RCMP Pacific Region Training Centre, Canada Border Services training centre and the BC Justice Institute also make their home at the education park.

UFV’s 30-year plan for the campus involves construction of a dozen more buildings forming a quadrangle with classroom space for about 7,000 FTE students.

But that’s just half the 85 acres that UFV owns at the park.

“We’re not done yet,” a jubilant Evered told the crowd. “There’s one million square feet to build.”

Les recalled an otherwise “bucolic” day in 1997 when he learned as Chilliwack mayor that CFB Chilliwack – a major driver of the local economy – was going to be closed by the federal government.

“That was indeed a shock,” he said.

The city “flirted” with a number of ideas to replace the loss of jobs and tax revenues, but Les said some kind of educational development was on his mind from the get-go.

At one point, he called B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt who was then looking for a site to build a new technical university.

“I phoned him up and I said, ‘Mike, I have a campus for you.’ But that obviously went nowhere.’”

When the BC Liberals replaced the NDP at the government helm, Les said the advanced education minister offered $10 million for expansion of UFV’s existing campus on Yale Road.

Les said he and Basford then did something “quite idiotic, politically.”

“We told Shirley Bond to keep her $10 million … because there were better ways to utilize that money.”

And that was the start of negotiations to build the Canada Education Park, with UFV as the city’s partner and largest landholder.

“We could easily have taken the $10 million and built another building at the existing campus,” Les said. “But we wouldn’t even have come close to what we have here today.”

“The lesson I take away from this is, try a little harder, reach a little higher and you come up with something that is so much better.”

UFV Chancellor Brian Minter, recalling UFV’s growth from a small community college to a degree-granting university, predicted the new campus and its programs will change the lives of many students, both young and old.

“To have that resource in our community is invaluable,” he said.

The 150,000 square-foot building, with its light and open townhall design, offers a variety of programs, although mainly it will be the home of a new Health Sciences faculty that includes nursing, dental, kinesiology and physical education programs.

In addition to standard arts and science programs, UFV’s agriculture program is also slated to move into a separate renovated building at the new campus later this summer.

Theatre courses will be offered in several locations, but the performance theatre remains at the Yale Road campus for the near future.

UFV student union president Carlos Vidal said the new campus marks “a new era of post secondary education” that will give Fraser Valley students “a solid jump-start to chosen careers and futures.”

The commitment made by the community to education, he said, “shows UFV students that we are important to you.”

The B.C. government provided $7.5 million to buy the property, $600,000 for an “aboriginal gathering place” at the new campus, $10 million for the new campus project, and $21-million to renovate a former military warehouse for the Trades and Technology Centre.

The federal government provided UFV with $7 million for infrastructure improvements, and the remainder of the new campus cost was funded through UFV’s capital plan, which includes the proceeds from the yet-to-be-sold Yale Road campus.

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl, B.C. Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto, CEPCO President John Jansen, and City Councillor Stewart McLean also took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Gwen O’Mahony, recently elected MLA in Chilliwack-Hope, the riding in which the new campus is located, confirmed she was invited to the event.

But she declined comment on the fact that she was not included in the list of speakers or those invited to cut the ribbon.

“I don’t want to cast a cloud on a great event,” she said.