Two of the partners behind a plan for the Collège d’Alfred campus have issued a final call for the Ontario government to act quickly so the plan can become reality. John Candie, Executive Director of the Prescott-Russell Community Development Corporation (PRCDC) and Lise Bourgeois, President and CEO of College La Cité have issued a letter saying they can no longer support the idea for the upper campus to become a multi-use educational, cultural, and community space because of inaction from the province on funding. Temporary funding for La Cité’s classes at the site runs out at the end of the current school year. If no funding or agreement is reached for Alfred, La Cité will relocate its programs to other facilities in Eastern Ontario communities.
The letter outlines the history of the redevelopment effort. In 2014, the University of Guelph stopped operating the agricultural college on behalf of the Ontario government. In 2016, the partners, who in addition to the PRCDC and La Cite included the Prescott-Russell Entrepreneurial Academy, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, and farm organization l’Union des cultivateurs franco-ontariens (UCFO) presented a proposal to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) for the upper campus buildings to become a centre for local economic development, education, agricultural and agri-food research and development. Part of the facility would become the Centre for Innovation and Transformation in Agriculture and Agri-Food, and there would also be a hub space for community and cultural organizations. Collège d’Alfred was Ontario’s only francophone agricultural college and the new plan was intended to serve primarily the francophone community in the region.
The letter says that despite positive responses from all levels of government, “no significant progress” was achieved in making the plan happen. Both Grant Crack, the former Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), and federal Member of Parliament (MP) Francis Drouin were supportive. John Candie of the PRCDC said Drouin has remained supportive and has assured he will do all he can to secure federal funding. Candie said however that after several messages have been sent to new Conservative MPP Amanda Simard, there has been no response.
Candie acknowledges the change in government in Ontario in June of this year has complicated efforts. Premier Doug Ford’s government is reviewing all government programs and spending, but Candie said “It doesn’t cost them anything to sit down with us.” As a last attempt to save their plan for the Alfred campus, the PRCDC and La Cité want to meet directly with provincial cabinet ministers for discussion. They are also willing to make changes to their proposal to suit provincial preferences.
The PRCDC is concerned that enthusiasm for the proposal will decline because of government inaction. “The more we wait, the more the interest fades away,” said Candie. “We’ve got to get the ball rolling,” he added.
Only the upper campus buildings in Alfred are part of the PRCDC-La Cité proposal. The lower campus, which includes barns, sheds, and fields, are now part of the Ferme d’éducation et de recherche du collège d’Alfred (FERCA), an education and research facility that is also partnered with La Cité for some of its programs and is also home to the headquarters of the UCFO.