For Doug Player, the leading proponent of Whistler International Campus, the biggest disappointment from the Dec. 3 council decision to reject the campus’ rezoning application was the lack of process — everything, from the size of the school to the mix of educational opportunities was negotiable, he said, but they were never given that chance.
“If it was too big, then why wouldn’t they invite us in to sit down and talk about it, and solve some of these issues?” asked Player. “We would have been happy to do that.
“I don’t know where (the proposal) is right now, but I don’t see this one coming back.”
With the biggest and most developed proposal to bring higher education to Whistler rejected, Player said he expects future education proposals to be small in scale with limited benefits for the resort in terms of economic diversification, and raising Whistler’s international profile.
“I know from talking to all the (educational) institutions what they need,” said Player. “The municipality says they have a few other proposals in the pipeline, but basically they’re talking about people taking small courses — which is something that has been tried before and failed.
“I think that anything that comes into the municipality is going to be subsidized, and I don’t know how many people will like seeing their tax dollars going into something like that.
“I wish them well in their negotiations, all the little stuff in the village that won’t have anywhere near the impact (of WIC) and won’t allow the community to live up to its potential.”
Player said that the size of the WIC proposal started out smaller, but grew over the years as a result of community support and feedback. For example, the idea of adding a culinary school evolved from a discussion with Whistler restaurateurs.
However, their intention all along, said Player, was to start small, and build in phases based on interest from educational partners.
“All of this grew out of community input, we didn’t want or need it to be that big,” said Player.
Player said that the school’s proponents didn’t expect the proposal to be approved or rejected outright at the meeting. They would have preferred for council to give the application a reading in order to begin a larger rezoning and public consultation process.
“We just wanted to sit down with the municipality collaboratively and say ‘Hey, obviously you have a problem with scale, what scale will satisfy you? You have a problem with bed units’ — and that’s a funny measure anyway, we only wanted spaces 1,400 students and they’re saying that’s 2,900 beds — ‘so let’s figure that out.’”
Player said the owners, the Zen family, will likely proceed with existing development permits for four estate homes on the property before those permits expire. When that happens, Player said the opportunity to build a school will likely be lost.
And while councillors had concerns with the fact that the campus would have been privately owned, Player said that private money is probably the only option available to build a proper institution in the resort, given the financial constraints of the public sector.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that council referred to the Learning and Education Task Force recommendations from June 13 when making the decision, including recommendations to start small and consider scale.
“(The report) talks about starting off with a number of initiatives that are small and meet community policies, and that are somewhat organic,” she said. “And so I think what we did was consistent with the report that we’ve received from that task force.”
At the meeting, municipal chief administrative officer Mike Furey hinted that another higher education opportunity was currently in the pipeline. Wilhelm-Morden said she is aware of the opportunity, but couldn’t reveal what it is at this time. “Read the report, and you’ll get an idea,” she said.
The report identifies several potential higher learning opportunities, including arts schools (Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Emily Carr University), a sports academy, an executive education school and professional skills training.