By Sue Tiffin
A long-talked-about student residence for Haliburton’s Fleming College could be making its home in Glebe Park.
In a council meeting held virtually on Oct. 26, Maureen Adamson, Fleming College president; Sandra Dupret, vice-president, student experience; and Susan Conner, co-chief executive officer of Prism Partners Inc. made a delegation to Dysart et al council regarding the plan.
Upon introducing the delegation, Mayor Andrea Roberts noted that Dysart council had been speaking with the college since last January, “to help find a piece of property that is suitable for a student residence.” The talks had been held in closed sessions, with no resolutions or decisions made, according to Roberts, and in a closed session of the Glebe Park committee, meaning the introduction of the Glebe Park location at the Oct. 26 council meeting was the first time the general public was hearing about it.
“We’ve long known that a residence is needed in this community for the college to grow and expand, housing is limited and people sadly are not able to partake in some of the courses they currently have because of lack of housing, and also the fact that the college can’t grow and offer more courses,” said Roberts. “So that has been a need that has been identified for many, many years. But … the difference is that we actually have the college taking the lead on this and not waiting for someone else to provide their residence here.”
Adamson, president of Fleming College, thanked Roberts for her leadership, saying, “you and your team have been awesome.”
“We really appreciate all of the potential opportunity here that is here in front of us,” she said. “We’re very pleased to be talking about the property adjacent to the campus within the Glebe Park so the college can proceed with a new residence. This is part of our strategic plan that’s been in place, we’re in the second year of our strategic plan and interestingly enough we have not wavered from that even though COVID has given us a few blows along the way. A residence in Haliburton is still very, very much important to us and we really hope that it will achieve more than just expanding programming for Fleming but it will also be a thriving economic vehicle for the local community.”
Adamson said Fleming had assembled a team to look at programming, design and engineering studies, and said that while the size and footprint of the facility is yet to be determined, the college is looking at a residence with 80 to 100 suites, with “the appropriate amenities there.”
“And we also are very much interested in ensuring that we have the right kind of ancillary programming that the community would want to have there,” said Adamson. “And in this regard obviously we want to work with you, Mayor Roberts, and planning staff, and Glebe Park, the museum committee and others, whomever we need to work with and talk to so that this is truly a collaborative effort.”
Adamson also said the college was involved with the Haliburton County Development Corporation, who she said continued “to be supportive of us and helping us move this project along, and are preliminarily pleased with the thoughts of the location that is certainly being discussed right now.”
Previously, planner/surveyor/engineer Greg Bishop had approached council in November 2018 with plans to construct student housing off of College Drive, near Glebe Park, for the campus. The project was expected to cost between $5 million and $7 million. He said at that time he’d been in talks with the college for a couple of years regarding the project. In August last year, HCDC received $50,000 for development studies on creating a student residence building in the community through the province’s Rural Economic Development program administered through the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Patti Tallman, at HCDC, told the Echo the college had gotten more involved in and was prepared to lead the project, “so we just transferred the contract we had with Greg over to Fleming College. Basically the elements of the project are exactly the same, and the costs associated with what were originally in the plan are exactly the same so nothing has really changed it’s just a transition to the college … The nice thing was that [Greg] was able to get it moving forward and he had that opportunity to do so which is fabulous, and now the college has sort of taken it to that next level.”
Tallman echoed Adamson’s remarks about HCDC’s enthusiasm for the student residence project.
“We’re more than happy,” she said. “We’re leading the RED contract, we’re more than happy to work with the college, and it was a great relationship working with Greg … We’re really excited to put this project, moving forward, and put it to fruition.”
Adamson said a “kick-off meeting” with Dysart et al’s director of planning was planned for the afternoon of Oct. 29.
“I’m really here to say we’re excited, thank you, and we’re hoping to move this along,” said Adamson.
She also made mention of the need to think about a memorandum of understanding.
“Maybe preliminary at this meeting but I think might be prudent in the future if we’re going to continue and ensure that everybody has an appropriate fingerprint on this exciting opportunity,” she said.
Roberts reiterated that this was the first time the public was hearing about the plan, but that Dysart council had been discussing it in closed session. She told the Echo two other properties were initially looked at, one private and one owned by the municipality, but the preferred location by council and the college was the Glebe Park property.
“We’ve looked at alternate property, Dysart doesn’t own very much land, and all of council is very sensitive to the value of Glebe Park, and public access that it has,” said Roberts. She said that preemptively, Glebe Park committee – which includes representatives from the Nordic ski club, the snowmobile club, the college, the museum and local neighbourhoods – had been consulted, and the idea had been “positively and unanimously well-received.”
Though the exact location planned for the residence was not presented during the meeting, Roberts said the proposal was to move the lot lines where the existing large, main parking lot is toward the heritage buildings of the museum. The Nordic ski club building would need to be removed and replaced elsewhere in the park. One ski trail would need to be slightly modified, but not eliminated. Road access would still be on College Drive, and the director of public works had been looking into hooking into the sewer system at the same place the college was already hooking into. Roberts told the Echo, “the land will be merged with the college property, they will own it, so technically making what they have simply a bit larger to accommodate the building any additional parking needed.” She also noted council knows they will need to accommodate both the location of the Nordic ski garage and the one ski trail.
“Because of the nature of closed session meetings, I really appreciate the members of the public that sit on the Glebe Park committee that couldn’t share it fully with the Nordic association,” said Roberts. “I’m sure there will be lots of questions that the public have, but we preemptively looked at all the impacts it would have to the public.”
Councillor Nancy Wood-Roberts asked about moving the lot lines.
“Would that be done prior to any plans or site plans or anything like that, and if the project were to not be completed, would the lot lines stay as it is now?”
Roberts said she believed the project would be completed, noting the college “is well on their way.”
“I think that is something that we want to have in a [memorandum of understanding],” said Adamson. “That land, if you’re moving the lot line it is for one single purpose, and that is a residence for Fleming, and you might want to hold our feet to the fire around timing as well, for a little bit so that it doesn’t drag on forever.”
Councillor Larry Clark was in favour of the project.
“I think the location of a student residence in that particular piece of land is just excellent, with the Glebe Park and the skiing… It will inspire your students, it should be excellent. It’s a great, great solution.”
Deputy Mayor Patrick Kennedy noted that “things have moved very quickly over the last few months,” and, acknowledging he might be rushing things, asked if there was “any anticipation of when you may do a groundbreaking?”
“Listen, if we can get this thing going, it’s a priority so you know, these projects take three years anyway, but it’s not a complicated build, so certainly we want it to happen as soon as possible,” said Adamson. “I know that’s wishy-washy, Deputy Mayor, I’m sorry.”
Conner added that the Fleming team would have greater clarity after the session with Dysart et al planner Jeff Iles in terms of what is required for the rezoning and/or site plan application, and the timing involved to work through those applications.
Again, Roberts noted the public would have questions about the presentation made on Tuesday.
“I’m really excited we were able to come out of closed and have this resolution in open because it is public property,” she said. “Believe me I was not sitting in this chair or even in this room when the college was going in, but I did live in the neighbourhood adjacent and there were concerns when the college went in there. I think anyone can attest now to what a fabulous addition that has been to our community, to Glebe Park, with the Sculpture Forest, and all of that, the college has been a great neighbour.”
Roberts made note of the Great Hall in the Haliburton School of Art + Design, and the architecture of the building itself.
“…there’s a lot of pluses, and there was nervousness around at that time and I’m hoping through this public process, putting it out into the public now, that there won’t be a nervousness,” she said. “We really have, as a council, working with the college, addressed all the needs that we are foreseeing that you the public might be concerned about if you’re listening to this. I really hope, I think this is going to be a great addition to our community. We will keep the public informed at every step along the way.”
Council voted to support, in principle, a change of property line in Glebe Park to accommodate the student residence building, supporting the project and the moving of the lot line.
“This is a very exciting day for Dysart,” said Roberts.
Later she told the Echo, “It was wonderful to share some good news. COVID-19 has dominated every aspect of our lives, and at times has felt overwhelming. We will get through it though. The college knows this and wants to plan for growth for the Haliburton campus. We are thrilled to see this project go forward and know it will be a great addition to our community. An added bonus is that this will free up rental properties for others who so desperately need them.”