An Ontario-based, sports-focused private school officially expressed to Pemberton council on Tuesday (Feb. 19) its desire to establish its next campus in the Spud Valley.
Peter Merrill, CEO of The Hill Academy, explained during a committee of the whole session that his institution is hoping to set up in the Sunstone Ridge development — which has zoning for an independent school — and be ready to welcome students for the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Merrill noted that Pemberton would provide an ideal location for academy’s athletic focus.
“Our platform really lends itself to this type of setting,” he told council members.
However, Merrill said the school needs a sense of Pemberton’s future plans for major recreation facilities before determining if a campus would be viable. In particular, Merrill said an ice rink and fieldhouse would be required for the academy’s programming.
Merrill said the proponents are hoping to know by the end of May what direction the village is heading when it comes to building major athletic facilities.
“Really what we need to hear is if there’s a commitment to do it, and as soon as possible,” Merrill said in a post-meeting interview. “If we want to do it in 2014, we need to know by May and there are a couple of reasons for that — not only in terms of timing, but there are other opportunities (for us) and a sense of urgency to kind of plant our flag to get it moving.”
Merrill said The Hill Academy has been approached about establishing campuses in Prince Edward Island and Colorado as well, but it will only be pursuing one of the available options.
The village is currently awaiting results of a feasibility study regarding major recreation facilities for the Pemberton area. Mayor Jordan Sturdy said council is hopeful to see some of the findings “in the next couple of weeks.” Merrill told council his group has provided input about its needs to authors of the study.
The development permit on Sunstone Ridge requires a contribution of about $1.9 million towards recreation amenities at full residential build-out. However, no such condition is in place if a school is constructed on the land.
When asked by council what The Hill Academy’s financial contribution may be towards its facility needs, Merrill said it would be “a key renter of those facilities.” He was not specific about whether the rink at Whistler’s Meadow Park Sports Centre would work for the school.
The academy has operated in the Greater Toronto Area for seven years — currently located in Vaughan, but with plans to move into its own permanent campus in Oakville soon. It offers classes for students in Grades 7 to 12 who are looking to complement their education with high-performance athletic training.
Merrill said the institution has a 100-per-cent success rate moving students into post-secondary education, while dozens have gone on to the next level of competition in their respective sports.
The Hill Academy’s long-term vision for Pemberton is a school of 400 students, with about three-quarters living in residence. Should it be ready to open by autumn 2014, Merrill said the goal would be to register about 80 day students — children from the local area — for the first year.
Merrill and other officials from The Hill Academy are expected to return to Pemberton in March to hold an open house providing more information to potential students and parents.
Off-leash areas debated
In response to multiple letters requesting One Mile Lake Park and the surrounding trails be made an off-leash area for dogs, council discussed creating a larger space for owners to allow their dogs to roam free during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Where exactly that area should be became the focus of debate at the table. Though one letter provided a detailed account of park users in January that showed the majority were walking dogs, Coun. James Linklater suggested that off-leash dogs may cause more concerns in the summer when more people are on the beach or riding bikes on the trails. Coun. Ted Craddock wondered if the Arn Canal might be an ideal location for an off-leash designation.
Council also heard from local residents attending the meeting who were opposed to the expansion of off-leash areas in the park.
“For 13 years I’ve been going to One Mile with little children, and I don’t like the dogs there at any time off leash. They’re lucky we put up with them on leash” said Bonnie Auger, who noted that her son takes her two dogs to a spot up Airport Road that is better suited for them to be untied.
Council referred all correspondence to staff for consideration as part of the One Mile Lake Master Plan review process.