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Turnout high at Whistler's post-secondary open house

Task force presents findings, seeks public feedback moving forward

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There are rich education program opportunities for Whistler with no shortage of options and now is the time for the public to have their input, say members of the resort's Learning and Education Task Force.

With education being a potential cornerstone of future growth at the resort, the task force held its first open house to present its findings. It drew 101 members of the public to the Whistler Conference Centre on April 4.

"We're really pleased with the numbers (of people that turned out)," Gwyn Symmons, the head of the task force, said in an interview.

"We've been talking about education and its role in diversifying the economy and its potential value socially as well. What the task force has done is bring forward a lot of critical information for the community. We've got to get the input from the community and provide it to council in June."

In his public presentation, Symmons said that since the creation of the task force by Whistler Council in the fall of 2012, there had been "a rich and caring discussion" by its members with the aim of developing recommendations to advance and evaluate education opportunities.

This included hearing presentations by nine existing and potential post-secondary education providers including Quest University Canada, The Sauder School of Business, Capilano University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, The Whistler Education Group and Whistler International Campus.

Options outlined included arts, sports, executive education, employer/professional skills training, providing select programs or courses, and potentially supporting the creation of a full campus (For a definition of each, see the box below).

The potential economic impact of such a facility on Whistler, along with its impact on Whistler 2020, the Official Community Plan, the Corporate Plan and the 2012-2014 Council Action Plan were also explored.

Symmons said the task force wants to determine which option is the most sustainable, along with what might be the most popular. He stressed the importance of public participation at this stage in the process, with a questionnaire on the options being made available at the open house.

"This open house is going to be really crucial... input is very much a community process," Symmons said.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who is also on the task force, was encouraged by the public turnout.

"I am very pleased to see the number of people here. That is terrific. It shows the level of interest in the topic. I haven't heard anyone being critical about the process, people think it is good that council took the time to create the task force and develop this framework," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"We have to get this questionnaire process completed, tabulated, and back to the task force for consideration and the final report will be drafted and submitted to council in June."

Doug Player, who has been behind the push for the Whistler International Campus (formerly Whistler University) concept for several years, said he had presented his vision to the task force.

"I like the turnout tonight. People are caring about what's going on and that helps. I'm a little concerned at how long the process has taken... we'd like to see an actual date, we've been told sometime in the summer," he said.

"We're ready to go and our partners are ready to go. We have kids ready to come here."

Developer Tim Regan has supported the Whistler International Campus option and said the open house "laid out a context of how to analyze and look at these opportunities, which is good."

He has been an advocate of educational institutions in the community for 15 years.

"If this is a good thing for us, I want to back the pony that has the most probability of getting over the finish line. I don't believe we should do any deal at any cost because that's not a win-win negotiation, but I think if we have the chance to get a palatable opportunity with a university we should sit down and discuss it and understand what they can give and what we need."

Regan had praise for the current council's attempt at addressing the resort's overall needs and wishes, and how it would be transformed by a major education facility.

"Having a diversity of educational offerings broadens out our appeal, and makes it more attractive as a community for people to come and live in and work," Regan said.

"I view the university like Whistler building the gondola to the top of the mountain."

Shelley Quinn of Tamwood Language School in Whistler came out to learn more about the task force's findings.

"I think this is a very helpful and necessary step for the RMOW to look into," Quinn said.

She believed the infrastructure in Whistler Village could be brought into the mix to support any education initiative, and that such initiatives could have great value in the community.

"I see the positive effects of education every day," she said, referring to her own work.

In particular, Quinn said international students would have a broad-reaching economic impact in the community, with home stays and spending money around Whistler.

Details on the task force can be found at whistler.ca/learning_education

The post-secondary education questionnaire can be filled out online until Friday, April 12 here: http://fluidsurveys.com/s/learning_education/

Education options for Whistler

1. The Arts:  This includes visual arts such as painting, sculpture, ceramics and photography, or performance arts including dance, music, theatre and film making. Initiatives could be sponsored by existing arts organizations or new ones, such as the new Audain Art Museum.

Both the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) and Emily Carr University would be strong organizations for the RMOW to partner with for an arts education.

2. Sports: Whistler's existing strength in sports could provide a range of educational opportunities using existing facilities. Facilities from the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games that are managed and operated by Whistler Sport Legacies could be involved. These include the Athletes Centre in the former Olympic and Paralympic Athletes Village.

The Canadian Sport Institute met with the task force and indicated its interest in working with the RMOW.

3. Executive Education

Small in scale, these programs are offered for learners who are senior administrators in the private, public, institutional, and non-profit sectors. Costs of these programs, and therefore, the resulting tuitions, are high.

Courses could conclude with certificates or be part of post-graduate diploma or Master's programs. Subjects covered can be broad and include leadership and business. This type of initiative would need to involve an educational institute with a known reputation, such as the UBC Sauder School of Business.

4. Employer/professional skills training: Largely private organizations or small entrepreneurs could organize Whistler workshops, seminars or longer training in a wide range of subjects. It would take advantage of Whistler's existing meeting rooms and other spaces in both the private and public sectors. The Whistler Education Group's research has identified opportunities.

5. Select programs — public institution: This initiative would see a post-secondary institution — such as Capilano University — as the responsible regional institution providing one or more courses/programs that focus on tourism, culinary, or film, and attract primarily regional residents, as well as national and international learners.

6. Full Campus: A new full campus in Whistler would likely be either private or non-profit. There is an existing proposal through the Whistler International Campus (WIC) for a privately funded university campus. The campus is planned to serve 1,500 students of whom 60 per cent would be international. Partners include BCIT and UNBC. The capital value is approximately $270 million.

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