Barrie city council using only leverage against college: OPINION
Barrie councillors have delayed the city's last instalment of its $5-million commitment to Georgian College's health and wellness centre until they get more information about plans for a downtown campus. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO
Are Barrie councillors being too tough on Georgian College and its plans for a downtown campus, loosely linking them to $1.5 million in city funding owed for the health and wellness centre?
No, not really.
Part of a $5-million commitment to the $65.5-million centre, this $1.5 million is the city's last instalment of that promise.
It's also probably the last bit of leverage councillors have on a condition of this 2009 commitment, that Georgian establish a satellite campus in downtown Barrie, or words to that effect.
To be clear, the $1.5 million hasn't been denied – just delayed until college officials come before city council, explain and presumably answer questions about their plans for a downtown campus.
Evidently, last week's announcement that Georgian had issued a request for proposal (RFP) seeking to lease up to 20,000 square feet, including modern training rooms and retail space in a high visibility downtown location, to move 250 Georgian design and visual arts students there, doesn't quite cut it.
Coun. Barry Ward said a press release wasn't good enough.
Coun. Doug Shipley said he'd prefer a signed lease agreement.
Mayor Jeff Lehman said he had every confidence the college would go ahead with its downtown Barrie campus plans, but he could understand why councillors wanted more information.
Aside from the argument against city tax dollars being spent on post-secondary education, clearly a provincial funding responsibility, Barrie councillors should hold the college's feet to the fire on this one.
Because 2009 was seven years ago.
And the health and wellness centre funding request isn't the last one.
Just last spring, Georgian asked council's support for a new project – a centre for advanced technology, innovation and research on Georgian's Barrie campus.
This includes, wait for it, moving a portion of Georgian's visual arts and design program downtown.
Council supported it, committing to $5 million during four years, subject to a firm commitment and time line for the establishment of academic programs in the city centre.
Can you see the pattern here?
None of this should suggest Georgian College hasn't made commitments to a downtown campus in good faith, with every intention of keeping them.
Ontario colleges are not their own masters, however, relying on provincial funding.
So a little leverage is a good thing, and Barrie councillors should use it while they can.