No answers to Milton question

Since the Jan. 31 presentation of Wilfrid Laurier University’s pre-budget submission for 2011-12 to the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affair, the fate of the proposed Milton campus lies in the hands of the province.

“We’re just in a waiting mode,” said vice president of finance and administration Jim Butler. “We would need a commitment on the part of the province that they would want a campus there.”

The university is asking for capital investment in infrastructure upgrades for the Waterloo and Brantford campuses as well as for the development of a Milton campus.

“What we expect in the 2011 provincial budget, which is likely to be delivered around the end of March, is a new ten-year plan for provincial capital for the public sector and the broader public sector,” explained Laurier’s director of government relations Brian Rosborough.

“In the past, post-secondary education hasn’t really received a large share of that funding,” Rosborough added. “We’re advocating for that to be increased … We’re taking steps to help the province understand the potential of investing [in Milton].”

The town of Milton has agreed to turn roughly 150 acres of land over to Laurier to construct a campus on in the event that the province agrees to fund the planning and construction of the university.

The new Laurier campus would be a vital part of the Milton Education Village (MEV), a project planned by the Town of Milton with co-operation from Halton Region.

“The beauty of the project is that it’s an entire neighbourhood built around the university,” said Andrew Siltala, town of Milton senior manager of economic development. “It is not one section dominating another, it is a neighbourhood that is complementary to a university.”

The 450-acre area encompasses student and family housing, retail centres, restaurants and other amenities. “It also includes an area for business growth, and an area in which a business innovation centre would be built,” said Siltala.

Siltala went on to explain that the town of Milton was not only interested in the idea of a university for education purposes, but for the community growth the institution would bring.

“The presence of a post-secondary institution adds to a healthy community,” said Siltala.

Butler believes that the additional campus would benefit Laurier as well as the region. “There’s a projected shortage of university spaces in the Greater Toronto Area … This would help service the needs of the GTA and meet the needs of the province.”

Rosborough added, “This tremendous growth in the GTA, and in Milton in particular … It’s currently not served at all by either a college or university.”

According to the 2006 Census, Milton saw a 71.4 per cent population increase from 2001 to 2006, making it Canada’s fastest growing community. The town also boasts one of the GTA’s highest household incomes and is currently the westernmost point for GO Transit’s commuter trains.

In March 2010, Laurier president Max Blouw announced the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Multi-Campus Governance. The group was created to examine all aspects of running multiple campuses effectively, including finances, student experience, and campus relationships with all levels of government.

Thus far, few concrete decisions or statements have been made, as the fate of Milton is viewed as uncertain and dependent upon many factors. Still, grievances have continued to pile up from interested parties.

An ongoing worry is fair representation for multiple campuses, as representatives from Laurier Brantford currently occupy only four senate seats. With growing concerns that one Laurier campus already suffers from under-representation, members of the Task Force remain tight-lipped on the situation.