As the Liberals revealed the provincial budget Tuesday it’s unclear whether there will be capital funding for the much-needed $27 million upgrade plan in the works for Selkirk College.
Selkirk College president Angus Graeme explained the institution has plans for an $18 to $19 million improvement to the Silver King campus in Nelson along with a $16 million upgrade to its Castlegar campus.
“It is my goal to see those funded as soon as possible,” he said.
The Rosemont campus, that hosts students 12 months of the year, turns 50 in 2014 and while it has been “quite a success story,” it is time for investment, said Graeme.
“What we’re proposing up at the Silver King campus is a fairly extensive renovation to primarily the shop space,” he said. “We don’t need a new trades building. It’s an excellent campus, an excellent site, but it does need some modernization.”
How the shops are configured, how equipment is stored, how students congregate and how technology is used are considered in an existing plan the college is eager to get to work on.
“We have kept pace pretty well but there is so much more we could do with a renovation project to really bring that trades campus into line with the 21st century,” said Graeme.
The Liberal government’s budget includes a $2.3 billion capital investment in post secondary institutions across BC. Finance Minister Mike De Jong touts a Liberal investment in trade skills training, with shop projects at Camosun College, Okanagan College and NorKam Secondary in Kamloops listed as examples. The largest mentioned capital project is a new campus for Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver.
Graeme said that just because Selkirk wasn’t mentioned by name Tuesday, doesn’t mean it’s out of luck.
“There may be funds that are rolled out in terms of programs for this year that we can apply to. As soon as those come out, I will jostle to be at the front of the line,” he said.
MLA Michelle Mungall questions where Selkirk College’s funds are considering the Liberals say they are committed to investing in skills training. She intends to bring up the matter with Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk.
“Where is this in the plans? If it’s not anywhere, why not? Silver King is where we’re training people to fill the skills gap,” said Mungall. “It’s a plan that’s ready to go. That investment needs to be made.”
One of the largest gaps in skilled trades people in the province is in the Kootenays, added Mungall.
Selkirk’s president said the local college could help the province address the shortage experienced not only by major industries but also the small and medium enterprise sectors in the region looking for workers from all trades and professions.
“We show time and again in all our programs when students are educated here there is a much higher chance they’ll stay here,” explained Graeme.
Of the nurses practicing in the area, 70 per cent are Selkirk grads, for example.
Selkirk College needs to be modern and relevant to attract students to this area to start and even complete their education, he said.
“We need to be the best we can be, state of the art, in order to do that effectively,” he said.
Selkirk College has benefitted from capital investments in recent years. The 10th Street Campus has new residences and Kootenay School of the Arts was upgraded mid-2000s. Equipment upgrades have also occurred at Silver King campus.
“We’re getting there,” said Graeme. “My message to government is for a fairly modest investment in buildings we can go even further in terms of helping you solve your challenges.”
In addition to capital costs, Tuesdays budget outlines operating spending on colleges and institutes. It is projected to fall by $5 million in the province during the coming year.
“I am comforted that there won’t be any major surprises and that will help us because we’ve been in a number of years with very tight budget times,” Graeme said. “For me it was neither a good news nor a bad news budget.”