Weeks ahead of council's consideration of a rezoning application for the proposed site of the Whistler International Campus (WIC), the project's proponents held an information session that inspired spirited discussion from those in attendance.
Over 60 people, including Whistler's mayor and several members of council, came out to Millennium Place Wednesday, Nov. 13 to have any lingering questions or concerns addressed surrounding the 31-hectare proposal.
"I felt good about the turnout, and I thought there were some very good questions asked," said project leader Doug Player. "It certainly indicated that the community is interested, and overall we felt pretty good about the support that was expressed to us about getting on with the process."
In a speech that spanned more than 25 minutes, Player outlined the potential economic benefits of the project, saying the campus would help to diversify the resort economy, increase Whistler's tax base, - he estimated that construction alone would provide nearly $2.3 million in direct, indirect and induced municipal taxes - provide jobs to the community, and opportunities for local businesses. Third-party consultants hired by the proponents predicted the school's 1,400 students would result in $32 million in annual spending in Whistler.
With several educational partners on board, including the University of Northern B.C. and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, who have agreed to deliver courses on campus, WIC will offer a diverse post-secondary experience for students, according to proponents.
So far, courses in tourism, business, environmental sciences, sports management, First Nations preparation and programs, culinary arts and executive training have been discussed for the school. Both diploma and degree programs would be offered, said Player.
"I share the vision," said open house attendee David McKinnon, a recent SFU graduate.
"It sounds like the professional focus (in the proposed programs) is one that's responsive to the market, which is reasonable. I'm happy they seem open to the idea of expanding into more theoretical programs."
Player is hopeful the school would eventually offer more courses in liberal arts, if approved.
Critics of the campus proposal have cited the development’s potential impact on sensitive wetlands located on the site, currently known as the Zen Lands, a large parcel located across Highway 99 from the entrance to Spring Creek.
The proponents want to focus development on the uplands only, and claim that campus facilities and related infrastructure would occupy only 30 per cent of the campus land base. The proposed buildings would take up eight per cent of the land, said Player. The remaining land would remain in its natural state, with wetlands protected and forest maintained.
AWARE executive director Claire Ruddy, who attended Wednesday's meeting, is opposed to major development on the ecologically sensitive land.