The head of The Hill Academy says feedback from prospective Sea to Sky parents has only furthered his interest in establishing the school’s second campus in Pemberton.
Peter Merrill, CEO of the Toronto-area secondary school that combines academics with high-performance athletics, met with dozens of interested parents during open house sessions in Pemberton and Whistler last week who confirmed to him that the Spud Valley would be a perfect place for The Hill Academy Pacific.
“People were really excited,” Merrill said Monday (March 18) from Virginia, where he was accompanying one of the school’s lacrosse teams. “The thing about that particular area is that it’s not a huge challenge to convince people about the platform of our school because everybody is so into the outdoors, into sport, athletics and recreation.”
The Hill Academy’s goal is to prepare student-athletes for the next level — be it in their sport of choice or academic pursuits beyond high school. The model appears to be working, with the institution achieving a 100-per-cent placement rate into post-secondary education, while several students have gone on to athletic scholarships or a selection in the NHL draft.
The Ontario campus focuses mainly on hockey and lacrosse, but Merrill said the athletics department at a Pemberton school could be tailored to the desires of prospective students.
“Soccer came up a lot, so did hockey. There were a number of discussions with people regarding high-level downhill skiing programs,” Merrill said of his interactions with open house attendees in Pemberton and Whistler. “When it is decided that this is going to go — and I think it’s more of a ‘when’ as opposed to an ‘if’ — then I’m going to have meetings with some key individuals and see where are starting points will be and then go from there.
“My feel is that we’re going to have a cross-section, but we’ll probably focus on one or two team sports and set up a support program for those in some individual sports — where they train and are in a high-level academic program that can be a little bit flexible to meet some of their scheduling needs.”
Merrill first met with Pemberton council last month, detailing The Hill Academy’s interest in occupying the Sunstone Ridge land zoned for an independent school, with an eye to opening for the 2014-15 school year. However, the institution is awaiting Pemberton’s preferred direction on a new recreation facility, of which Merrill has said the school would be a major tenant.
“If we can provide a significant revenue stream to that to offset some of the costs in the community, obviously that works for us because we’re not in a position to build a big athletic complex,” he said.
Beyond the economic benefits and employment opportunities a campus could provide, Merrill said The Hill Academy would also produce respectful individuals who make a positive impact on the community.
“People would be proud to have these students walking around the main streets,” he said.