A new plan for Alfred campus wins cautious support

Regional mayors were cautiously supportive of a plan for Alfred Campus which would see it redeveloped as a community hub and centre for innovation, while still offering French-language agricultural education.

The plan, prepared for the Prescott-Russell Community Development Corporation (PRCDC) by consultant Christopher Rees of Suthey Holler Associates, was presented at the United Counties council committee of the whole meeting on January 11.

The council has previously said it does not want to financially invest in the campus. This plan doesn’t require financial support from the counties, instead depending on contributions from the provincial and federal governments, as well as “local partners.” About $5.5 million would be needed over five years for operating expenses, plus $1.8 million for capital costs. If all goes according to plan, both the community hub and Centre for Innovation and Transformation in Agriculture (CITA) would be self-sufficient in six years.

The report names five partners: College La Cite, Prescott Russell Community Development Corporation, Union des cultivateurs franco-ontariens, Prescott Russell Entrepreneurial Academy, and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. The land and buildings of the campus are currently owned by the province’s Agriculture Research Institute of Ontario, but under the plan, a group of local partners would own the campus.

The report says the goal is to have agreements with the federal and provincial governments by March of 2017, with the new hub and CITA opening by September, 2017.

At the meeting, Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux expressed concern about asking for money from the provincial and federal governments, saying it could mean less money for other projects. John Candie of PRCDC said any Federal grants would likely be “new money” from the government’s “innovation” budget, not from its infrastructure fund.

But Leroux said his biggest concern had to do with La Cite. He said he wants to see a “serious, serious” agreement, so the college “cannot just bail and run like Guelph did,” even if enrollment is lower than expected or desired. Guelph University, when it pulled out of Alfred campus in 2014, “essentially stole everything from us and left,” Leroux said.

Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois said she’s pleased to have a “substantial” plan for Alfred campus. “There are numbers I question” in the report, she said, “but I’m prepared to support this in principle, which I wasn’t in the past.”

East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby said “eastern Ontario is definitely owed” when it comes to Alfred campus, and said he’d support the idea without making any financial commitment on behalf of the counties.

Champlain Township Mayor and United Counties Warden Gary Barton called it a “very ambitious project,” and expressed support for it, but added municipalities in Prescott Russell are “struggling for dollars.” He said at council’s next meeting, on January 25, it’s possible council will pass a resolution agreeing in principle to the plan.

 

Community hub

Services for economic development and business development in the counties, would be centralized at the community hub,  including a Centre for Innovation and Technology in Agriculture (CITA), as well as agricultural education. The report says in the future, it could also include conference facilities, a food hub, and a retirement village.

The hub would be a non-profit organization “made up of local partner organizations,” and would own and be responsible for maintaining Alfred campus’s buildings. Its revenue would come from rent paid by organizations like Prescott-Russell Tourism, Prescott Russell Entrepreneurial Academy, and La Cite College, which currently does not pay rent at the campus. The report says by 2022, Prescott Russell Community Hub (PRCH) would be “nearly self-sufficient,” with an operating deficit of $14,000. But meanwhile, an operating subsidy of $1.45 million is needed. That would be used for utilities, maintenance, building a capital reserve, and paying a manager, administrative assistant and community coordinator.

CITA

The Centre for Innovation and Technology in Agriculture would be part of the community hub. The CITA would be “capable of undertaking the applied research that is often necessary to kick-start innovation,” and would create a “seamless melding” of all the service and service providers “essential to innovation.” It’s described as a “holistic centre” for helping people start a business or expand an existing one. The centre would be managed by a board of directors, and each of the five local partners would have a representative on the board.

Some of the goals of the new centre would be increasing economic activity, creating new agri-food businesses, developing a skilled workforce, and attracting new businesses.

Most of the services which would be offered by CITA already exist in Prescott and Russell, just not in a centralized location, says the proposal. Also, most already have offices at the Alfred Campus – except for the United Counties economic development department and SDCPR, which the plan says could move.

United Counties CAO Stephane Parisien, on Wednesday, expressed caution about relocating. “Let’s steer away from saying we’re moving our offices,” he said. But Alfred-Plantagenet Mayor Fernand Dicaire said it should be considered. “We’ll have to stop working in silos,” he said, and moving offices “should be explored.” Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux agreed, saying it should be considered.

The report splits services offered by CITA into “pre-incubation” and “incubation” services. Pre-incubation is for prospective business-owners who haven’t quite developed a complete business plan. CITA could offer desk space, likely shared by a few people or businesses, internet service, “basic advisory services,” library access and discounts on seminars. Then, “incubation” services would involve renting out space and offering advice and expertise.

Much of CITA’s revenue would come from renting out space to incubator clients. An estimated budget for CITA says in 2022, it should be at 70 per cent occupancy and generate $66,360 in rental revenue, with additional money coming from renting out commercial kitchen space ($175,000 in 2022) and offering conferences and seminars ($85,000). But for the first five years, it’s estimated revenues will be lower, so a $700,000 operating subsidy would be needed beginning in 2017.

Research and education

The report says education “will remain a key element of the concept” for Alfred College. It says La Cite is currently working on a “new education model” with more focus on hands-on learning. Both on-site and distance learning would be offered.

The proposal says research at the CITA will be delivered by La Cite’s Agri-Food Training and Research Institute (IFRA). Research fields include animal production, vegetable production, horticulture production, and food processing. The report says research could at some point be expanded into other areas, like renewable energy, water and wastewater management, forestry, and others. The plan includes a partnership with Carleton University in Ottawa as well as with organizations like the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and private sector companies.

The IFRA branch of the centre would have an operating budget of over $1 million, which would be spent on salaries for researchers and maintaining research equipment, according to a draft budget in the plan. Revenue would come mainly from industry partners, research contracts, and grants.

Capital expenses

The report says the community hub and CITA will fit into the existing space at Alfred campus, likely with room to spare. But, $1.9 million will be needed over the first five years, in order to pay for certain improvements. That includes $500,000 worth of renovations at the administrative building, $350,000 in business and engineering plans for the sports building and student residence, $200,000 for the enlargement of the commercial kitchen as well as $200,000 worth of food processing equipment, and $300,000 for research equipment and greenhouse improvements.


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