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County of Simcoe donates $1M to Lakehead as part of $10M commitment

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES
Simcoe County provided Lakehead University Orillia with the latest installment of its $10 million commitment to the school Tuesday morning. On hand for the presentation of the $1 million donation was, from left to right, Dr. Kim Fedderson, principal of the Lakehead Orillia campus, Springwater Mayor Bill French, Dr. Brian Stevenson, president and vice-chancellor of Lakehead University, Simcoe County Warden Gerry Marshall, Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes and Ramara Deputy-Mayor John O'Donnell.

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES Simcoe County provided Lakehead University Orillia with the latest installment of its $10 million commitment to the school Tuesday morning. On hand for the presentation of the $1 million donation was, from left to right, Dr. Kim Fedderson, principal of the Lakehead Orillia campus, Springwater Mayor Bill French, Dr. Brian Stevenson, president and vice-chancellor of Lakehead University, Simcoe County Warden Gerry Marshall, Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes and Ramara Deputy-Mayor John O'Donnell.

The partnership between the County of Simcoe and Lakehead University Orillia is a special one. In fact, Dr. Kim Fedderson, principal of the Orillia campus isn't sure there's another one like it in Ontario, if not Canada.

"This is a community that's wanted to have a university for over 50 years and has realized - the City of Orillia and Simcoe County - that they were going to have to step up to the plate.... And they've done that," Fedderson said. "I really think it is unprecedented, a city and a county coming up and investing in a university to make that university possible."

Representatives from the county, the city and the university gathered at the school Tuesday morning to celebrate the county's latest donation to the school, part of a $10 million commitment made in 2009. A cheque for $1 million was presented at the ceremony.

While Fedderson hasn't done extensive research to support his belief in the uniqueness of the partnership, he certainly sees how the commitment from the county and the city has differed from other partnerships where a level of government may put financial support toward a singular project or initiative.

Instead, the partnership at Lakehead is one that is continuous, and has been one that is essential when considering not only the growth of the Orillia campus over the past decade but also the fact that it was established in the first place.

In the past 10 years, more than 2,700 degrees have been awarded at Lakehead Orillia. Of its current student body population, 45% are from Simcoe County, with every municipality in the county being represented. The economic impact of the school on the county has increased 10-fold, from $4.1 million in 2006-2007 to $47 million 2015-2016.

Of the $10 million commitment from the county, $6.5 million has been provided to the school. For every dollar spent of that commitment so far, the county has seen a return on investment of $34.50 via economic impact. Those numbers provide some proof to those at the county who took a gamble on the school in 2009 when it was still located in downtown Orillia that they made the right choice.

"When we started this in 2009, it's speculation based: 'we're investing because we believe in this and we think it may get our students to a better spot and a better place,'" said Gerry Marshall, warden of Simcoe County and mayor of Penetanguishene. "When this renews, we do have students in a better place. It has had benefits. It will be an evidence-based decision and I would say, based on the evidence so far, it's a slam dunk for the next county council to come in and say 'we're in for another 10 years.'"

Tuesday's ceremony took place inside Simcoe Hall, the main campus building at Lakehead Orillia. It was named Simcoe Hall in honour of the financial commitment made by the county; without that money, Simcoe Hall "wouldn't exist," Fedderson said.

That the county seemingly will continue to be such a partner will only help secure the long-term vision for the Orillia campus.

"We have a very detailed plan for moving forward over the next 20 years, to expand program offerings, to expand the number of buildings we have on this 85-acre site," Fedderson said. "We'll be looking to our partners as we do."

pbales@postmedia.com

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