What is going on with the Kemptville College situation? The Municipality announced that the announcement scheduled for the middle of March, which was delayed until the end of March, will not now be announced at all. No date has been set for any future announcement. A cone of silence has fallen, once again, over the deliberations on the future of the campus. What is going on behind the scenes? We’re not allowed to know, because we are just the taxpayers, whose money will be involved in whatever happens to this prized piece of land. Yes, the Municipality has promised that no taxpayer money will be used to take over the College, but I think no one really believes that promise can be kept. We have been told, many times, that any loose talk now would only jeopardise the negotiations which have been, we are told, taking place between the Municipality, the Province of Ontario, and the University of Guelph.
Not being privy to these talks, we can only wonder what’s taking so long if, as we were assured at the start, everyone involved is eager for an agreement and, in one of Mayor Gordon’s favourite sayings, singing Kumbaya together. But it is now exactly three years since the public was first made aware that the University of Guelph was pulling out of the campus and taking its assets back to Guelph. Three years since people began talking about the future of the buildings and land. What’s the problem?
Perhaps the promise that no taxpayers’ money would be needed to take over and operate the facility, should it become the property of North Grenville, has made it harder to come to a deal with the Province. Perhaps the fact that the buildings are owned by the University, while the land is owned by an Ontario Government entity known as ARIO [the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario] is another complication. The possibilities seem endless, and the frustration is that we are kept in the dark about it all.
Even when a major consultant was hired to look into the future options for the College, part of the report they submitted to Council was kept back from the public. That seems more than a little unfair, since the future of the College directly affects this community. After all this time and talk, would the Municipality not be just as well off (or as badly off) in breaking the silence and taking us into their confidence? Look how successful public involvement was in keeping the Service Ontario offices open.
It has been suggested that selling the land to the Municipality would require legislation, another possible source of delay. But the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario Act. [R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER A.13.] gives ARIO authority to “dispose of all or any part of such property or interest therein by sale, lease or otherwise” [Section 4.3b]. At the same time, ARIO have a legislative obligation to get a reasonable price for the land, which brings us back to public money.
No-one wants to mess up the talks by talking out of turn, but we don’t even know what the issues are, what proposed use of the property is being discussed, and how far talks have progressed. But the sudden cancellation of the announcement last week is a concern. To make things more complicated still, the Municipality of North Grenville is not the only body interested in the College lands and buildings. Although the Municipality has promised that none of the land would be sold to developers, if the current talks don’t result in a positive outcome for the Municipality, other new owners may not be as protective of the community’s interest in the campus.
The recent visit by the Canadian military has also indicated an interest on the part of the Department of Defense in taking over at least some of the land for use as a training base, a kind of CFB Kemptville operation. Members of Council were invited out to meet with the military as they conducted their exercises, so perhaps something is happening in that area too? And then there’s the two schools already operating on the college grounds. How will they fit into any future plans for the College? Until now, the main focus has been on agriculture. ARIO’s mandate is to promote research for the agri-food sector, and there has been a century of agricultural education on the site.
There have been many really innovative ideas for the future use of the College brought forward by local residents, most of whom know what they’re talking about, and all of which appear to have been ignored by the Municipality so far. Three years later, we’re still waiting to see what will come from these oh so secret talks. Is the Province holding back until next year, when they can spring a surprise gift in an attempt to win North Grenville to the side of the Liberals in the election scheduled for 2018? Are we worrying unnecessarily about the whole thing, and will there be a sudden unveiling of a fantastic deal that will thrill and excite us all? Is there anything in the record of the Municipality to inspire such a hope? Will we ever hear anything except a deafening silence on the issue?
Have your say. We have posted a short survey on our website and Facebook page. Let us know what you’d like to see happen next.