A former bank building is getting a brand-new lease on life as a centre of higher learning in downtown Chilliwack.
Bank of Montreal officials announced Friday the donation of their former branch building on Yale Road to the University of the Fraser Valley, to be transformed into an education “plaza” focused on business development and training.
The gift of $850,000 from BMO Group to UFV, along with $650,000 from CEPCO for renovations, make for a total donation of roughly $1.5 million to build the newest UFV campus in the heart of downtown.
“This makes it the largest one-time gift in the bank’s history in B.C.,” said BMO Group spokesman Henry Donkers. “Best of all the use of the building fits in with our commitment to giving to lifelong learning. It makes for a perfect model.”
BMO management told city officials of their strong interest in helping with downtown redevelopment efforts, and the bank has a distinguished history in the community, dating back 106 years in various downtown locations.
“We are proud to have to contributed to the social-economic life of Chilliwack over the past century, and to have helped our customers reach their financial goals,” Donkers said.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz called it an “exciting day” for the city since the heart of the downtown is at Five Corners.
“So I’m glad Santa Claus came to town a little early this year,” Gaetz said.
The community was left with a feeling of sadness and “What now?” when the BMO announced it was pulling the branch out of the downtown to move to Eagle Landing, she recounted.
“With this announcement today you have added new breath and new life into the City of Chilliwack,” Gaetz said, adding that UFV has become “a force to be reckoned” with.
CEPCO board spokesman Bruce Van Den Brink said the move by BMO Group also “sets the bar” for other local businesses to similarly work together.
“It’s a great testament to the type of company they are and what they have done for the community.”
While some were “obviously disappointed” when the bank announced the move from the downtown, they managed to turn it into a positive.
“Rather than turning their back on it, we saw them turning around and donating the building to the university,” he said.
In terms of selling Chilliwack as a destination community on the global marketplace, a well-educated work force is “key” since that’s what potential employers are looking for, he said.
“Welcome to the newest campus of your university, the University of the Fraser Valley,” said UFV president Mark Evered. “I’m here to express sincere appreciation to those visionary and community focused people who made this happen.”
He thanked the BMO, CEPCO and city officials for the biggest one-time donation the university has ever received.
“Thank you for recognizing what a university brings to a community,” Evered said, “and for your confidence in our ability to bring the type of quality programming that will transform this part of Chilliwack.”
UFV goals are two-fold, he said, aside from striving to offer “the best undergraduate education in Canada,” the second goal is to be “a leader in the development of the Fraser Valley,” on social, cultural, economic and environmental levels.
“We hope you can see this project in the fulfillment of both of those goals,” he said, as well as “evidence” of their commitment to the valley through “direct community engagement, here in the heart of Chilliwack.
The downtown core will be “transformed” with the new UFV facility being created in the middle of it, although he said it was too early to say exactly what kind of courses and training will be available at Five Corners.
The term “incubation” centre came up in the vision for supporting existing small businesses or startups.
“It’s early on in that conversation,” Evered said. “We’re exploring a number of ideas, like opportunities in continuing education and business programming.”
But as a principle, the courses and programs will specifically address “local needs,” he underlined.
“Stay tuned as we roll out over the next few months our courses and programs.”
Renovations will start in the new year, with the new UFV Plaza expected to open in September 2013.