New school, recreation centre on the way

Hill Academy hopeful to open Pemberton campus in 2015

A new agreement signed Tuesday (Oct. 1) has set the wheels in motion for Pemberton to become home to a new private school and recreation facility in the coming years.

The Village of Pemberton, the Hill Academy and Sunstone Group entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Tuesday that will see the school establish a campus in town on Sunstone-held land, and a recreation complex to be designed for an adjacent property.

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For years, Pemberton has been trying to attract an independent school operator to town. More recently, the village has been looking to develop a plan that would address the community's recreational needs. The MOU signed Tuesday is a significant step towards making both initiatives a reality.

"It's essentially an opportunity for all of the partners to work towards a common goal with a common vision," Mayor Jordan Sturdy said during Tuesday's council meeting. "We have a lot of work to do to get it accomplished, but I think the will is there, the circumstances are there, the desire's there and the opportunity's there. Now it's just a matter of trying to execute it."

The Hill Academy, which already operates one campus in the Greater Toronto area, first began expressing interest in the Sunstone site designated for a private school early this year. Hill Academy CEO Peter Merrill said there was instant chemistry between his organization and Sunstone, and that the Pemberton community is a perfect fit for the athletics-focused academic programming the school provides.

"We're really pumped about the whole thing," said Merrill. "(Pemberton) just lends itself to the platform of school we think the Hill is all about.

"There's no (need for) convincing people of the value of sport and activity in the area As soon as I open my mouth to discuss this whole idea, you can just see people nodding their heads right away in agreement."

The Hill Academy will eventually be an anchor tenant of the new recreation facility, and school officials will be involved in the building's design process.

Council members expressed their excitement for the economic and recreational opportunities the new agreement will bring to town during Tuesday's meeting. Sunstone Group president Neil Colquhoun echoed those sentiments in a press release announcing the MOU.

"One of the goals of the Sunstone Group is to help build a vibrant community in the Pemberton Valley. Accordingly, we are working hard to bring more jobs, academic alternatives, additional recreational opportunities and some live entertainment to the community," said Colquhoun, whose group is also a key partner in the Pemberton Music Festival.

"We believe that this will only enhance the attraction for young families to live in Pemberton."

Although the Hill Academy had originally expressed interest in establishing a campus in 2014, Merrill said the revised goal is to be open for the 2015-16 school year.

"That's nice because there's no hurry," he said. "There's a timeline that's laid out in this memorandum of understanding that I'm pretty comfortable with.

"You have to have a lot of time to set up your staff, your recruiting, and to make sure you're ready when the doors open."

Merrill said the school will begin accepting applications for enrolment shortly, with financial benefits to "founding families" signing up for the first year of operation. He's hopeful to have 80 students registered for 2015, but the end vision is to have 250 students in Grades 7 through 12, with the majority living on campus.

"We really want to see if we can get some momentum going," said Merrill. "Everybody has expressed a lot of interest and for me to be able to plan correctly, it will be really nice to be able to get some commitments from people as early as possible."

Meanwhile, the village is working to make necessary preparations to the recreation facility site, a piece of property being transferred from the Den Duyf family to the village. The Agricultural Land Commission provided approval of non-farm use for the property this summer, and council approved first readings of OCP and bylaw amendments on Tuesday that will designate the site for recreational use.

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